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Millard Sheets 

Interviewed by George M. Goodwin 


Completed under the auspices 

of the 

Oral History Program 

University of California 

los Angel • 

Copyright © 19 77 
The Regents of the University of California 

This manuscript is hereby made available for research 
purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, 
including the right to publication, are reserved to the 
University Library of the University of California at 
Los Angeles. No part of the manuscript may be quoted 
for publication without the written permission of the 
University Librarian of the University of California 
at Los Angeles. 


This interview is one of a series, entitled "Los Angeles 
Art Community: Group Portrait," funded by the National 
Endowment for the Humanities and conducted from July 1, 
1975 to March 31, 1977 by the UCLA Oral History Program. 
The project was directed jointly by Page Ackerman, 
University Librarian, and Gerald Nordland, Director, 
UCLA Art Galleries, and administered by Bernard Galm, 
Director, Oral History Program. After selection of 
interview candidates and interviewers, the Program 
assumed responsibility for the conduct of all interviews 
and their processing. 


TAPE NUMBER: VII, Side One (January 6, 1977) 315 

Appointment as director of Otis Art Institute 
— New building activity — New faculty — Divisions 
on board — MFA degree--Individual projects — 
Ceramics: Peter Voulkos — Gifts from the 
private sector — The Chandler family — Otis 
Institute today — Relationship with county 
government — California Institute of the Arts — 
Walt Disney's plan — the effect of Disney's 
death--Resignation from the Cal Arts board — 
The Art Center School — Teaching imagination 
in art--Mural painting: first exposure — Early 
commissions--Frescoes for South Pasadena Junior 
High School — Murals for the Golden Gate 

TAPE NUMBER: VII, Side Two (January 6, 1977) 358 

Diego Rivera — Public Works Administration 
projects in Southern Calif ornia--PWA committee 
membership--Activities — Los Angeles art 
community in the Depression- -PWA artists — 
Lorser Feitelson and Helen Lundeberg — Initial 
involvement with Home Savings — Meeting Howard 
Ahraanson — Ahmanson's office — Invitation to 
design a building--Ahmanson ' s instructions — 
Submitting an art budget — Ahmanson inspects 
the building--Ahmanson: "Where do we go 
next?" — Public response. 

TAPE NUMBER: VIII, Side One (January 11, 1977). . . . 384 

Criteria for Home Savings designs — Developing 
a formula — Desire for flexibility — Importance 
of function — Problems of construction — 
Obstacles: city planners, bureaucrats — Role 
of subordinates — Art and landscaping--Costs — 
Use of stained glass — Use of ceramic tiles — 
Favorite Home Savings building: Hollywood — 
Mosaics — Choosing a design — Preparatory 
research--Other Home Savings buildings. 


TAPE NUMBER: VIII, Side Two (January 11, 1977) .... 412 

Durability of buildings — Self-criticism of Home 
Savings designs — Payment for designs — Other 
work for Ahmanson — Commission for mosaic mural 
at Detroit Public Library — Commission for mural 
at Notre Dame University Library — Use of granite 
--Building the mural, in Minnesota — Matching 
colors and granite--Attaching the granite: 
using pins — Seeking an overview. 

TAPE NUMBER: IX, Side One (January 13, 1977) 438 

Examining the design from atop a water tower — 
Checking the details--Moving the cut pieces 
from Minnesota to Indiana--Dedication 
ceremonies--Personal satisfaction and public 
response--Cost and university fund raising — 
Details and colors — Mural for dome of National 
Shrine, Washington, D.C. — Design problems — 
Computerized cartoons — Mural for a side chapel 
--Other artists working in mosaics — Ravenna 
Mosaic Company--Costs and fees. 

TAPE NUMBER: IX, Side Two (January 13, 1977) 464 

Costs and fees [cont 'd] --Cost increases — 
Social responsibility — Developing a master 
plan for the Claremont Colleges--Designing 
the Garrison Theatre--Executing tile mural 
for Honolulu Hilton Hotel--Adoption of mural 
design as Hilton logo — Mural for Los Angeles 
City Hall East — Techniques of glazing — 
Sources of design--Consulting for Scottish 
Rite cathedral, Los Angeles. 

TAPE NUMBER: X, Side One (January 16, 1977) 489 

Scottish Rite Masonic Temple: subjects and 
designs — Mosaic mural--Sculpture on the south 
facade — Interior spaces and decoration — 
Masons' funds and philanthropic activities — 
Designing the Masonic temple in San Francisco 
— Other activities: involvement in motion 
pictures — Design for academic gowns for 
Scripps College — Official seal for Los Angeles 
County — Work for air force in Formosa — 
Lectures for State Department in Turkey — 
Travels in Turkey. 


TAPE NUMBER: X, Side Two (January 16, 1977) 515 

Further travels in Turkey — Visit for State 
Department to Soviet Union — Russia and the 
Russians — Return to United States: lecture 
tours — Reaction of State Department — 
Republican politics: delegate to 1964 
National Convention--Virginia Steele Scott 
Foundation: trusteeship — Background — 
Planning a new museum — Concentration on 
American art — Plans for the future — Buying 
art for Bullock's Department Store. 

TAPE NUMBER: XI [video] (February 5, 1977) 542 

Barking Rocks, the Sheets home in Northern 
California — A tour of the art collection — 
Mrs. Sheets: children and grandchildren — 
Interest in horses and pets--Design of 
Barking Rocks. 

[Second Part] (February 9, 1977) .... 557 

Sheets paintings in Scott Foundation 
collection in Pasadena — Oils and watercolors, 
1930s — Acrylics and watercolors, 1960s — 
Dramatic change of style--The nature of 
painting — Painting a watercolor — A tapestry 
— Use of color--Final ruminations. 

Index 574 

Index of Millard Sheets Works 587 

JANUARY 6, 1977 

GOODWIN: In 1955 you became the director of Otis Art 
Institute. How did that come about? 

SHEETS: Well, that's the kind of a thing that can happen, 
I guess, once or twice in a person's lifetime. During the 
winter, before I started at Otis in the fall, I had a ter- 
rible accident with a horse. The horse threw his head back, 
broke my cheekbone. I had a crack that went halfway around 
my head; it just knocked the hell out of me. I was spending 
considerable time at home after the operations that they had 
to make after the ten days waiting for the concussion to 
heal. I had a call from John Anson Ford, and from Mrs. 
[Leiland Atherton] Irish, who was a great person in Los 
Angeles in those days. She had done so much for music. 
She'd worked on many philanthropic boards, and she was a 
member of the board of the Otis Art Institute, as was Mr. 
Ford, who then was a county supervisor. They called me to 
see if they could come out and discuss with me the possi- 
bility of hiring a new director for Otis Art Institute. 

I held them off for about a week until I felt a little 
better. They came out, and we had a very interesting after- 
noon discussing the problem. I pointed out rather quickly 
in our conversation that I felt it would be difficult to 
get a director for the Otis Art Institute. The institute 


had slowly run down to the point that there were students 
that had been there for twelve years. They were profes- 
sional students, and they had a kind of an atmosphere that 
wasn't at all like it was in the early days of Roscoe 
[Edwin R.] Schroder and the early days of the institute. 
I said I didn't believe they could get a director that was 
worth anything, worth his salt or her salt, to come there 
and direct the school as it was being operated. They said, 
"Well, how should it be operated?" I made the inevitable 
mistake of saying many things about what I thought should 
be done in a school of that kind. [tape recorder turned 

I believe deeply that a school, to be supported by the 
public, should function in a unique way and do something 
that a private school could not do. I felt that there was 
a great need for a top art school that wasn't entirely com- 
mercial and wasn't entirely aesthetic, that somewhere 
between the thing that is being done in most of the colleges 
and most of the art schools, there could be some absolutely 
sound, basic training in the skills in art on a high level 
of taste with a good, strong background for the artist. I 
outlined this in general to these nice people. 

Well, they were quite interested in what I had to say, 
but they said, "Look, would you be willing to meet with our 
board after you've had some time to outline what you think 
the Los Angeles County Art Institute should be — the kind 


of curriculum, the kind of a program, whether it should be 
formalized and so on--and then meet with us in a leisurely 
way some evening in Los Angeles and talk to the whole board?" 
Well, having nothing else to do except to wait to get over 
this terrible head injury, I did a lot of thinking about it, 
and I wrote down a real concept for a school. I went, at 
their invitation, and presented my ideas. 

I remember we met at the California Club, and I out- 
lined what I felt was a solid, major institute of art, 
where students could go in any direction they wanted if 
they were sufficiently trained in the total aspect of art. 
In other words, I felt that they needed not only to draw 
and to paint if they wished to be painters, but they should 
have adequate training in design and sculpture, some in 
architecture, so that these people would be able to roll 
with the punch and do things that the average student isn't 
able to do, what most of the students, really, as they come 
out of school today are not able to do. I said I felt that 
unless the Otis Art Institute was this type of school, I 
didn't see any reason for it to exist. I thought it should 
go out of business. We have a good school in the Art Center 
which is a more commercially oriented school. Within its 
sphere, I think it's doing as fine a job as any school in 
the United States. I think it's doing it today as it was 
in those days. I felt that there were plenty of colleges 
giving all of the aesthetic hocus-pocus, that we didn't 


need to get into that area. This school should do something 
that was really needed, and I made the point that the 
tremendous growth in industry here, the tremendous need 
for redesigning our whole city and surroundings, both from 
an ecological point of view and from an aesthetic point of 
view, we needed artists who were trained as people who 
could work with business people, with industry, with 
politicians, who could stand on their own feet and hold 
their ground in a way that I think an educated person can. 

To my surprise, they became very enthusiastic about 
this idea. Finally, at the end of the meeting, John Anson 
Ford said, "Well, Millard, would you become the director if 
we made it into that kind of a school?" I said, "John, I'm 
as safe as though I were in God's pocket because you'll 
never have the courage to turn the faculty upside down, 
hire new staff, build the necessary buildings, and support 
it as it would have to be supported. So I feel very safe 
in saying that yes, I would, because it would be a tremen- 
dously exciting challenge if you did it. But I just don't 
believe that with all the best of intentions on the part 
of this board, that you can do it in Los Angeles." 

Well, it just happened that they went to work, and 
after about two months they came to me with an extremely 
firm proposal about the way they were going to support this 
school. I asked for a leave of absence from Scripps, where 
I was very happy. I was completely my own boss; I had the 


most marvelous staff, the greatest relationship with the 
students and faculty, and lived there, and my children 
were growing up there in Claremont. I felt that it was 
almost impossible to really leave Scripps, so I asked for 
a leave of absence, and I said that I would like to get 
the school started and as soon as possible train a director 
to take my place. 

Well, what of course happened was that it took a full 
year to plan the school and to hire the new faculty, which 
meant I had to have another year's leave of absence. Of 
course, we planned the building, we planned all the new 
courses, and it was a very exciting moment in my life. I 
think that the staff we brought together in the beginning 
were absolutely devoted to this basic idea of interplay 
between the various facets of art training, the various 
skills. At the same time, we were able to get the students 
very excited about the idea of an artist being really 
educated. It was a very tough thing, on the other hand, 
to have to really let go the majority of the old faculty 
and to remove from the school about 9 5 percent of the 
students who had been going there. There were some stories 
in that that are just incredible, if I ever told them, but 
I think they are better left unsaid. 

However, by the beginning of the second year, we had 
started the new building. We were still working in part 
of the old building, and we'd torn down the original front 


building, which was the old Otis mansion, where I'd had my 
office. We built a part of a new building, where I moved 
my office and started work. 

We set the level very high, starting at the second- 
year-college level. The requirement was that they should 
have a minimum of two years of college or, hopefully, four 
years of college. We were as tough in checking their 
transcripts as any other college or university would be. 
Then, of course, in addition to satisfactory work in 
college, which proved to us that they had an intellectual 
capacity, we demanded a strong portfolio. I think, con- 
sidering the fact that we were starting from scratch, that 
we had an extraordinary group of students in those first 
years, because we kept the standard high. The county 
agreed that we didn't have to fill it up with a lot of 
bodies, that they were willing to let it grow. I think 
we started with about eighty-five students, with a staff 
of six major, full professors and about that many assistant 
professors. It meant that we had a very high proportion of 
professor-to-student, which I think is better education 
anyway . 

In the main, it worked very well. It is true that I 
probably made a few mistakes on appointments, because you 
can't always know how a person will truly react, even 
though they wish to agree in principle with the philosophy. 
I made two or three appointments that didn't turn out right 


in the sense that they were basically such individualists 
that they didn't really want to be a part of a larger team 

GOODWIN: Who were some of the people you brought to the 
school, some of the faculty? 

SHEETS: On the first faculty, Richard Haines was head of 
painting; Renzo Fenci was the head of sculpture; Peter 
Voulkos was the head of the ceramic department; oh, the 
man from Pasadena Junior College Cwho , I understand, is 
back at Otis now) [Leonard] Edmondson, was the head of 
design; and [Herbert] Jepson, who was a marvelous teacher, 
was the head of drawing. Those were the key, basic, full 
professors. I didn't even have an assistant. I didn't 
have a dean, even. We started cold, and I worked very 
closely with the staff. 
GOODWIN: Were you teaching also? 

SHEETS: I didn't actually teach, but I spent a tremendous 
amount of time with the students: in conference, in dis- 
cussion, in advice. I spent a great deal of time with 
almost every student before they came in to the school, 
and then I followed through with them. I did do quite a 
bit of lecturing on my concept of the relation of art to 
society and some art history. We had a top man from USC 
in art history [John Braun] . He was one of the best 
lecturers at USC at that time. We had a doctor who was 
a brilliant man in anatomy. He's a good painter in his 


own right. He's a doctor, but he paints as an avocation. 
He's an excellent painter. He taught anatomy — not in a 
dull, pedantic way, but in a very creative way. He worked 
very closely with Jepson. We had other people, like Joe 
Mugnani, and we had other painters. I should get a list 
and show you the list, but I can hand you that later. 
GOODWIN: Did you bring anyone from Scripps? 
SHEETS: No, I did not. I did not feel that it was right 
for me to do that. Well, I did bring two or three of the 
Scripps professors in — one on history — but not in a sense 
of taking them away from Scripps. This was a matter of 
their coming in, perhaps, for two lectures a week. I had 
two or three people from Scripps that did that, but I didn't 
take anyone from the art staff. I didn't feel it was right, 
and also I felt always I was going back to Scripps. 

Well, it took longer than I thought it would to get 
this program into gear. I think it was about the third or 
fourth year that I felt we were really beginning to move, 
in the full sense. We had a lot of people in industry, a 
lot of people in various facets of business, really looking 
at our school with the thought that they could get a very 
thoroughly trained person. Of course, out of that group 
came young people like Tom Van Sant, who has done incredible 
things all over the world. He was the second graduate. Our 
first graduate was in ceramics, Paul Soldner, who later 
became the head of the ceramic department at Scripps and 


is known now all over the world. I think the first thirty 
or forty graduates were all people who really made names 

Then, as so often happens, I think we developed a 
combination of many things. For one thing, I had become 
so deeply involved in my own professional work that I had 
to give less and less time to the school, though I was 
going there regularly and being in my office regularly and 
running staff meetings and all of that kind of thing. I 
didn't have the time that I had had in the beginning for 
the more personal side of work with students, and I think 
that the staff felt less unified because of that. I think 
they became a little bit more self-contained as individuals 
and didn't really, in the full sense, cooperate. They were 
more interested in getting the best students in their classes, 
and this is often the case. I feel as responsible for that 
as anyone else. 

Also, we had quite a division on our board about the 
future support of the school. One member, who one time was 
chairman of the board, felt that we should literally hand 
this school to use for a dollar a year and let them take it 
over and take it off of the county support roll. I certainly 
was not happy with that thought, for two reasons. I felt 
that use hadn't particularly distinguished itself in art. 
They've had a good school of architecture, and they've had 
a few good students come out of USC as artists, but I don't 


think it would have been the college I would have selected 
anyway, if we had to go the route of selecting a college. 
This became a real fight which split the board right in 
half. The Otis Art Institute board supported me in the 
main, although two or three members were very bitter about 
the fact that I became a block to accomplishing this. I 
might say that there were three members of our board who 
were very closely related to USC : one lady whose husband 
was on the USC board; the librarian from USC was on the 
board; and the third person was an architect that did a 
good deal of the work at USC. 
GOODWIN: Why did Otis need a board? 

SHEETS: Well, any of the divisions within the county that 
are run as separate operations, in a sense, must have a lay 
board appointed by the supervisors. Each of the five board 
members appointed two people on alternating terms for the 
Otis board. These people were, of course, then able to 
check back to their supervisor and keep the supervisor 
involved, and it was very important that they do that because 
the supervisors sitting down there found it difficult at 
times to explain to the lay public why they had to support 
an art school. Now, if it had been an art school strictly 
run for artists, I think there would have been a lot of 
legitimate reasons why people didn't think it should be 
supported. But we envisaged this school as serving the 
needs of the county in a very direct way. We did not mean 


that every student that graduated had to go out and become 
a servant of the county. If they had the capacity to 
become highly creative artists and be utterly independent 
and live in an ivory tower, we didn't in any way downgrade 
this thought. But you don't have that many people out of 
any society that necessarily warrant that kind of freedom. 
I think that the Board of Supervisors thoroughly understood 
when we made them rebuild this program, because I spent a 
great deal of time talking with them, as I did with the then 
chief administrative officer of the county, Arthur Will, who 
was an amazing man. I did have full support of the five 
members of the Board of Supervisors in all the early years 
of the school . 

As the time went on and these splits occurred, par- 
ticularly as the lady that I mentioned whose husband was 
on the use board at that time was probably the most powerful 
woman in Los Angeles, you could see that we had problems. 
I left by resigning. I wasn't in any way asked to resign. 
I left because I just simply couldn't teach anywhere any 
longer. I had so much work and many necessities for travel 
for my own business that I just couldn't continue. I stayed 
six years. The last two years were filled with this 
frustrating feeling that the school really wasn't being 
supported as it should be by part of the board of governors, 
and then in turn, the people they represented on the main 


I've even heard riomors lately that they are talking 
about completely removing support to the County Art Institute, 
which would be the death knell for it. It's hard to conceive, 
but I've heard this. 

GOODWIN: What was the cost to the county while you were 

SHEETS: Our budget was very small, relatively speaking. 
I can't remember, off the top of my head. I'm sure I have 
it. I can get it without any trouble, but it was a low 
overhead. There was no serious, major amount of money. It 
would be such an infinitesmal part of the budget that you 
wouldn't know it was there. But we did have a good staff. 
We had fine personnel all the way through, from the 
custodians up. 

GOODWIN: Did you introduce the MFA degree or was that 
already in existence? 

SHEETS: I introduced it at Scripps, and we gave the MFA 
degree at Otis. That was part of the plan: to start at 
the second year and not give an interim degree, no BA or 
anything that had to do with a fourth-year degree. We 
were to go straight through for the four years and then 
give an MFA, which really meant that the student was 
equipped. They were masters of their craft and they were 
able to go out and serve. Right after I left the institute, 
they immediately changed that and gave the interim degree, 
which I think is just valueless. Many students take that 


and leave, which means they're not even half-baked — they're 
not trained. 

Of course, we had another problem right from the 
beginning, and that was to get the staff to really get with 
this problem to the point that they didn't encourage anyone 
after the first year, or certainly after the second year, if 
they didn't really feel that the student was of the quality 
material that should be there. I think if there's any 
feeling I had about the staff that I selected, it was their 
inability to really face that issue honestly with their 
students. They became attached to them, as is normal in 
any university or high school or college or anyplace else. 
I think very often their hope that the student would do 
better than he was doing often misguided them into carrying 
him on. I felt that the grading was exceedingly high the 
first year. It came down better the second year. By the 
third year it seemed to make a little more sense. Many 
artists, even though they've had some college and other 
training, are not equipped to really grade as they should. 
But the more we built those standards up, the better that 
school became and the more exciting it became. As they 
started to lower it, it went right back into another level 

GOODWIN: What should a grade tell a student? 
SHEETS: Well, of course you have three systems: you can 
grade or you can write comments or you can just say "passing" 


or "not passing." But I think the grade should tell the 
student a certain amount. I think that if you follow the 
present system of grading in most colleges and universities, 
a B is a better-than-average grade. But I think that in the 
mind of most Americans, B is the middle grade. Therefore, 
it's really tough to start out with a C and call it average, 
and then go down as you think you should. Of course, in my 
opinion, those students that were getting below Cs shouldn't 
have been in that school after a year because they didn't 
belong there. 

It was not like a private institution that had to live 
off of its tuition. Our tuition was extremely low. It 
since has been raised a great deal. It was very low pur- 
posely, and I was able to get considerable amounts of money 
for scholarships. So we never turned down a good student, 
ever. I had plenty of people, including myself, that would 
pay scholarships if we didn't have the money in the scholar- 
ship fund. We'd work it out. And I'm very proud of the 
people that came through in that sense. 

But the idea that you can work in an art school for 
producing people in masses I don't agree with. I think 
it's impossible. I don't think it's true of anything else, 
either, but just certainly in the art field. If the students 
don't learn the fundamental things in the first two years, 
they have no business to go into the second or the third 
and fourth year. And this is what I think happened eventually. 


GOODWIN: As part of the MFA degree, a student worked on 
a thesis or major project? 

SHEETS: Well, yes. In the final granting of the degree 
in their fourth year, the students worked primarily on 
their own projects. They were freed by this time from 
regular class requirements. They worked with the head 
instructor in each field. They were almost apprenticed 
to that person. I don't mean by that that they worked on 
the professor's work. I don't mean that at all, but they 
worked very close to them. The professor was expected to 
give an exceeding amount of time — not just an occasional 
passing criticism but to really launch the students into 
major projects that would require a year to complete. The 
final grades in the projects were given by the top staff 
meiabers, at the full professor level. We, of course, 
always had an exhibition of their work at the end of the 
year. We were graduating at that time, oh, the first year 
I think it was two, and then eight, and then sixteen. I 
think we never did get over, while I was there, perhaps 
twenty graduation students. 

GOODWIN: What were some of the typical major projects? 
SHEETS: Well, in sculpture I can remember there were proj- 
ects that had heroic figures done sometimes in a very 
exciting way. One young man won a Prix de Rome from his 
master's project. Some member of the committee of the Prix 
de Rome from New York was passing through and saw his 


exhibit and said, "Enter the competition," and he won it. 
That was a really great feeling on our part. Others worked 
on big sections of a mural or maybe a group of paintings of 
a certain subject matter that they wanted to develop a very 
rounded feeling about. It varied enormously. 

Oh, we had a marvelous graphics department, which I 
didn't mention. We had Ernest Freed, who had been at Iowa, 
studied with [Mauricio] Lasansky, who was an excellent print 
man. We had the first really good graphic thing going here. 
Then UCLA, immediately following that, developed a very 
strong graphic department for a while. I don't know what 
they're doing now, but they had a very, very fine department 
twenty years ago. They brought three or four people out 
that were doing superb work. Graphics was almost a new 
thing in Southern California at that time as a real division 
in the arts, because it required all of the excitement and 
background of design and drawing and color and all the rest 
of it. We had big etching presses. We had lithography. 
They worked in a variety of print media. 

GOODWIN: Didn't you also raise ceramics to a new level of 

SHEETS: Well, I think we started that at Scripps, definitely. 
I thought when we brought Peter Voulkos out that we really 
had hit the jackpot in terms of a ceramic program. In my 
life I 've never seen anything like what Pete Voulkos achieved 
in the first two years at Otis. It was incredible. He was 


at his height, as far as I'm personally concerned, in his 
own work. His pots were magnificent. He could eat clay, 
[laughter] He had a great spirit, and the students were 
crazy about him. Then something happened. Pete became 
disinterested completely in ceramics as he had practiced 
it up to that point. He almost rebelled against everything 
that was skillful. He started just taking house paint and 
painting his pots if they had a low fire on them. He wasn't 
interested in the high fire. He just became a completely 
different kind of artist and immediately turned the depart- 
ment around. It's an unfortunate fact that I had to let 
him go after another year. The department was simply headed 
for the rocks. The respect for the medium, for the discipline, 
for what could be done in fine ceramics just went out the 
window. And it was tragic. As I understand it now, Pete 
is turning back towards his original view again. This has 
been a long interim, fifteen years at least. He's done what 
he calls sculpture, these enormous, mammoth things for many 
years now. I'm sorry to say they don't impress me. They're 
not things that have given me the thrill that he and lots 
of art critics have felt about them. But I've heard recently 
from people that know him quite well that he's become vitally 
interested in reestablishing some of his great technical 
skill and ability and imagination. I don't think anybody's 
ever done a pot that's more vital and alive than some of 
those early pots. They're just magnificent. 


But the ceramic department has gone on. It has a very 
good woman there now, who is formerly a Scripps graduate, 
as a matter of fact, Whitey [Helen] Watson. She is doing a 
great job there as the head of the ceramic department. I 
don't know enough about the other departments. Arthur Ames, 
I brought in to head the design for many years, until he 
reached the age of retirement, as did Dick Haines and 
several others. I don't really know what the new appoint- 
ments are, but we had a lot of good students and were 
turning out a lot of exciting things for a period of many 

GOODWIN: Were you also involved in accelerating the gallery 
activities at Otis? 

SHEETS: Oh, yes. Well, I felt a gallery was absolutely 
essential to the student body. I felt that we needed a 
gallery, and we had a very good, well-planned, long-range 
program where we brought what I think was a balanced diet 
to the students. The curator for the gallery was Wayne 
Long. We brought fine old things, great Oriental things, 
the best we could get in all the fields of art. We had, 
of course, very exciting contemporary exhibitions. We had 
a series of brilliant shows over a period of many years. 
After I left, those were continued for many years. 
GOODWIN: Was there a gallery before you came? 
SHEETS: No, no. We built the gallery. The only building 
that was there before I came was one piece of the back 


building, just one small part of it, and then all the rest 
of it we built. The gallery program, I'm sure, is still 
going. I don't know what the score is today at all. I 
think it's an important thing for students not only to see 
fine things and have a chance to see them in and out every 
day, but also to exhibit their own work so they could get 
some sense of what it was like to be hung in a gallery. 
We had great student shows as well as the MFA shows at the 
end of the year. We always had at least two major shows a 
year for the students . 

GOODWIN: Did the board at Otis provide any funding from 
the private sector? 

SHEETS: Quite a few members of the board gave gifts. It 
was not a part of the regular budget. The Los Angeles 
Times , through Mrs. [Norman] Chandler, gave a good deal of 
money toward the library in the beginning. I think if I 
remember correctly, it was in the neighborhood of $5,000 
a year, which meant a lot to us, in addition to what money 
we could get from the county. There were other people, 
private people, and two or three businesses that gave us 
considerable amounts of money, which we could accept grace- 
fully for special uses: for scholarship, library, or 
special exhibitions. We needed help quite often. Several 
of us gave a great deal of help to the exhibitions because 
they're expensive and it took a lot of time and money. 
GOODWIN: Was the Chandler family as actively involved as 


it might have been, considering that they're the descendants 
of the Otis people? 

SHEETS: Well, before I accepted the position, I went to 
see Mrs. Chandler, Mrs. Buff Chandler. I told her exactly 
what it was that we wanted to do. She had been on the board 
formerly, as I think her husband had been at one time. But 
she was not a member of the board, and I asked her first of 
all what she thought of the program. I must have spent two 
or three hours with her at her home, in those days in Arcadia. 
After she showed a real sense of enthusiasm, I said, "Well, 
I would be willing to go forward with this program, now that 
the county has asked me to do it, if you would come back on 
the board." She agreed, and she did. Whoever the super- 
visor was — I can't remember which particular supervisor 
appointed her, but he was delighted to do it because they 
were very happy to have her serve. She was right in the 
middle of getting the Music Center [of Los Angeles County] 
going and was right in the center of all the things in Los 
Angeles. For the first three years, she couldn't have given 
more wholehearted support than she did. It was when this 
change of heart came about, about USC , that that support 

Unfortunately one of the members of the board that I 
have not mentioned, who also wanted this whole thing changed 
to USC, was Howard Ahmanson. He was the man I was working 
for primarily on the outside. He also was a member of the 


use board. I had to go through the agony of telling the 
four of them I thought they should resign because they 
made the statement that they didn't feel if anything 
happened to them or they had to go away from the board 
that the school would be able to stand on its feet. They 
did resign before I left, and the school did stand on its 
feet. I'm very sorry that I couldn't have stayed on to 
see it stand on its feet permanently. 

GOODWIN: Do you think that Otis has a different role today 
than it had in the past? 

SHEETS: Well, I have a strong feeling that when you leave 
a position, you should not go back and make people feel 
that you're blowing hot breath on their neck. For this 
reason, I have not been to Otis. I don't go to Otis. I 
don't solicit information about what's going on at Otis. 
I can't help hearing a great many things, and it doesn't 
seem to me that the program that we started is being carried 
out at all at the present time. I think it has become more 
like a typical art school or a typical college art depart- 
ment, where they're interested primarily in teaching taste 
and teaching contemporary fads in art, rather than saying, 
"We're going to give you the background, if you have the 
ability to develop your own concepts and your own styles." 
This is the way it should be done. But we're talking about 
probably the most important argument that there is today in 
the art world: the difference between the ways and ideas 


about how you should train an artist. I just don't agree 
with the present philosophy. I'm afraid that Otis has 
gone around and isn't any different than most of the 
departments. I told you that already about Scripps. 
GOODWIN: Right. I'm thinking, though, that there are so 
many more art departments everywhere throughout Southern 
California. Cal Arts is reorganized and has its own new 
campus, and the same with Art Center School. I'm wondering 
whether Otis really has a clear function anymore as long as 
it continues to do what it has. 

SHEETS: I doubt it very much, and I think it will come to 
a head shortly. I was asked to stay on the board at Otis, 
which I did for three years at least after I resigned as 
director. It was during this period that I was on the 
board that this big mix-up took place about USC. When 
Mrs. Chandler resigned, her daughter-in-law [Marilyn 
("Mitsy") Chandler] was appointed. Well, her background 
in art is not exactly the deepest. I do not say this in 
disrespect to her as a person, but I cannot believe that 
her immature judgment about art and art training should 
have dominated the changes that have taken place at Otis, 
but they certainly have. She wanted a very contemporary, 
very active expressionist, modernist — or whatever ism you 
wished — to become the director and to switch the school 
over completely. I think that this is what's happened. 
They have suffered, really. The people who had been on 


the original staff suffered through their final years 
before they retired, because they were being pushed out 
in every way. They became unhappy, and certainly the 
school doesn't reflect any of the original direction. 
Then after Mitsy Chandler had succeeded in completely 
destroying the old concepts, she resigned. I think it's 
very tragic. 

GOODWIN: Was there anybody in the county government who 
was particularly sympathetic to the idea of the county 
supporting an art school, other than Supervisor Ford? 
Was there mostly a great deal of hostility? 
SHEETS: I never felt that people were at all hostile 
toward me, but I felt that they questioned very much the 
idea that the county should be in the business of running 
an art school. Arthur Will was very much for it. He was 
a man that had some background. He knew that cities reflect 
the state of mind of the people, and if you do not train 
artists, you don't train designers, you don't train creative 
people, your city isn't going to be creative. It's just 
inevitable. Through Arthur Will's support and John Anson 
Ford and some of the other supervisors, not including Kenny 
Hahn and one or two others who were against anything except 
their own pet projects, we had some very strong support for 
many years. Even Mr. Ford's successor [Ernest E. Debs] was 
very strongly behind us. A list of the members of the board 
would clearly point out the fact that the board was very 


divided. [Warren M. ] Dorn was very much for the County 
Art Institute. The man at Long Beach [Burton W. Chace] 
who died was very much behind us. I think at first Kenny 
Hahn was the only one that really picked on the idea. 
Then that seeped down through. 

The civil service people were very interesting to 
me because I had to spend a great deal of time with them 
to get them to understand the kind of appointments we had 
to have. At first they were pretty cursory in their 
approach to the problem, but as I spent time with them, I 
found them not only quite sympathetic but I think we had 
extremely strong support from them. When they understood 
the level that we were trying to seek, they couldn't 
attach that to just some little talk about art. The moment 
it became a matter of how much real background and experience 
and what the person had been doing with his life in relation 
to society, they understood that very quickly. I felt, in 
contrast to many people, that the civil service people were 
among our strongest supporters. 

I used to, of course, go to lunch with the heads of 
all the county departments every three months at an off- 
the-record lunch. I enjoyed thoroughly meeting the fifty- 
two department heads. No supervisors were present. Arthur 
Will, as chief administrator of the county, was there 
always and the man that followed him. There was strong 
respect within the group of department heads for what we 


were doing in art. I talked to them many times at their 
request about our program, and they were really enthusiastic. 
The decline in support of Otis by the county didn't happen 
from any pressure, really, from the county. I think it 
happened just because the board of governors of the institute 
were lazy and felt that they wanted to dump it onto somebody 
else's lap. 

GOODWIN: I've been trying to compare in my own mind the 
experience Otis had with county government and the exper- 
ience that the County Art Museum has had, because I know 
that in some sense the art museum has been a stepchild of 
county government, and it just doesn't fit. 
SHEETS: It doesn't, and the Otis Art Institute didn't 
until I started this new program. While that new program 
was going full blast, there wasn't a problem. As the 
program seemed to slip away and down into the ordinary 
kind of a program, then it happened again. I can under- 
stand that. 

I think you do know that I was on the Cal Arts board 
when it was organized. Of course, here's a case where the 
county isn't interfering at all because it was all private 
money. We didn't talk about this before, did we? 

SHEETS: Tragically, Walt Disney died at exactly the wrong 
moment. Of course it's wrong for anyone to die, I suppose, 
at any moment. But as far as the school was concerned, he 


had built up so much feeling about this school and had 
given so much attention to it and had stimulated a lot 
of his friends into believing in this thing, and he died. 
On the first board, there were only one or two of us that 
really had any sense of what an art school was about. The 
rest of the people were nice people, very good people. 
Some of them had been involved with motion pictures, 
financing motion pictures. Others were technically 
involved with motion pictures. Others were very serious, 
public-minded, public-spirited people. But an art school, 
that's something else. 

Walt's brother [Roy Disney] was an amazing man. He 
had the most marvelous spirit, particularly toward Walt. 
The whole thing had been as much his doing as Walt's, 
really, the Walt Disney Studio. But the older brother 
felt that he didn't ever want a kind of a Warner Brothers 
title to the organization, so it was always called the Walt 
Disney Studios. But Walt could never have done the job of 
creating the tremendous studio that he did had it not been 
for his brother. So when Walt died so suddenly, and as 
his brother was ten years older, he became somewhat 
frightened at the idea that something might happen to him 
before this dream of Walt's was realized. So the building 
was pushed through far too rapidly. It had been planned 
and discussed by an architect and by Walt for years, but 
then there was no one there to really curb the architect. 


Suddenly the plans became infinitely more important than 
the program or the kinds of students they were going to 

The tragedy, as I look at it, is that here was a great 
idea, with a tremendous financial backing, that just had to 
have a birth not as a normal six- to nine-pound child, but 
as an 800-student-body , full-grown institution. The entire 
act of finding staff, searching for heads of departments-- 
and the whole thing was done without real regard to clear ob- 
jectives of what Walt had envisaged, which was a very 
simple idea. He said, "As a man that's been involved with 
motion pictures, which is a great media, where all of the 
arts are used, where we have music, writers, cinematographers , 
cameramen, and all the different crafts, I know, obviously, 
that we can hire experts, but they're experts who don't 
know anything about the other experts and what they're 
really trying to accomplish. Even the director doesn't 
always know how to pull these things together." The way 
he described it was, "If we had a school where we would set 
the level right at the top and wouldn't let anyone in that 
didn't have some real ability, where we had schools of 
music, of drama, of cinematography, of dance, and of the 
graphic and applied arts, all under one roof, as the 
students walk from one class to another, passing art 
exhibits of students and others, they're hearing music, 
and they're living in the dormitories with people that 


are in all the arts." The way he put it was, "Who knows 
what kind of a form will eventually come out of such an 
experience in the creation of a whole new concept of 
cinematography and the motion picture as we know it today?" 
Well, that was his dream. Though I said it and a few 
other people who knew Walt said it very strongly, over and 
over again, that's a hard thing for people that don't under- 
stand to really comprehend the importance of. So the first 
thing they did was to find a man who was very excellent in 
the field of drama and who had had a lot of college and 
university administrative ability and experience, and they 
hired him. Then he listened real hard to each of the 
people that he wanted to hire in the various fields, and 
there was absolutely no unity to the concept at all. On 
top of that, he hired a dean that just put a ring in the 
director's nose and jerked him at will all over the place. 
The school got off to such a bad start that it almost blew 
up in the second year, after spending over $20 million. 
Another terrible tragedy was that the board sat there and 
voted to spend about $17 million of the $20 million for 
capital expenditure, which made no sense at all. It did 
build buildings that could house 800 people, but it didn't 
provide most of the vital things: endowment for the staff, 
endowment for the program, to assure it in any sense. It's 
been a pickup game ever since. Even though the family has 
put another $20 million in, it still needs a great deal of 


money for scholarships, for staff, and for all the other 
things that are involved in running a big institution. 

Now, if they had started out in a totally different 
way, if they had started out with, say, two or three 
disciplines, maybe an art school and perhaps a music school 
or maybe one more, and built a part of a master plan, and 
had perhaps twenty-five absolutely top students, the most 
brilliant young people they could find, of any age--I don't 
give a damn how old they are — and start a school on quality, 
and then in another three years or four years added another 
area, and had grown like that — the money would have been 
there drawing a tremendous income — they could have had a 
school of strength. It's a tragedy to see people hiring 
people to run any department who don't really know what it 
is that that department is supposed to do. 

I finally resigned from the board less than a year ago. 
I spent, altogether, about eight years, some of those years 
discussing the school with Walt Disney and with other people, 
Long before he even wanted to have a board formed, we spent 
a tremendous amount of time talking about this project. It 
was very clear in his mind and certainly in my mind what he 
had wanted to create . I saw them about to hire a man to 
head the art department as bad as the one who had been 
there before, and it became almost a confrontation problem, 
again, between myself and the director, who I have a great 
deal of admiration for. I think he's a very bright man. 


but I don't think anyone else I've ever met can know all 
there is to know about music and cinematography and drama 
and the graphic and applied arts and the dance. There's 
so much theory mixed into all of it. I interviewed one 
of the prospective appointees for head of the art depart- 
ment, and I thought he was not only a charming man but that 
he had a tremendous amount of feeling about art, so it 
wasn't a personal distaste for him on my part. But when 
I asked him some very simple questions about how he felt 
a department should be organized, what he felt were the 
basic requirements to insure a proper end product, it was 
the same old laissez-faire attitude: bring them in here; 
let them get around the people; it will all work out. And 
it doesn't work out. I think if Walt were alive today, he 
would be shocked as hell at what the institute is doing. 

Now, I think this is not as true, certainly, in music. 
I have a very strong feeling that music is being well taught 
there. I think the drama department, after many difficult 
starts and stops, is moving forward very strongly. The 
dance has always been good. They've had excellent people. 
But now you're talking about disciplines where there's no 
bull involved. If you can't dance, if you can't handle 
your feet and your body, you aren't going to function. 
GOODWIN: There's a built-in discipline. 
SHEETS: It's just a built-in discipline. Certainly in 
music, unless you know something about your instrument 


and the structure of music — sure, some people read by ear, 
but it's hardly what you build a school around. In art it 
just seems to be the most frustrating thing in the world 
to me that anyone who feels they've spent enough time in 
the vicinity of art are automatically experts who know 
everything that needs to be known about how you train 
people to find out who they are. You can't find out who 
you are until you have enough discipline back of you. 
The fear of discipline now is frightening to me as the 
philosophy upon which to build an art school. 

These are strange days where education can be so 
involved in plain theory and not really excited about 
where this guy's going, Where's that gal going, what's 
she going to do when she gets out of here? They don't 
seem to care. I can't believe that that's education. 
GOODWIN: You mentioned on one occasion that you're now a 
board member of the Art Center School. 

SHEETS: Yes, I've just become a. board member. I haven't 
had my first board meeting yet. 

GOODWIN: Oh. So you can't compare the experience there 
to Cal Arts? 

SHEETS: No, except by observation and by knowing members 
of the board. I think Art Center could easily fall into 
this pattern because the pressure is there from students, 
though not as much as it was a few years back. But many 
students today would rather be very clever and look very 


contemporary and look very much with-it than to feel that 
they want to get down to the gristle and bone and find out 
about something. But I think the tendency of the faculty 
is, as I've watched it over the forty years of fifty years 
I've been involved, that as an artist matures and develops 
a great deal more taste, a great deal more knowledge of 
art, a great deal more feeling about art, if they've grown 
and continue to grow, it's very hard for them to want to 
go back and teach the fundamentals. They're bored by it. 
They feel like that is stepping backwards to them. So 
they begin to twist the drawings or the paintings, what- 
ever it is, into the kind of formula that they're interested 
in. The kind of taste that they have, they like to impose 
upon students. Now, that's a dreadful mistake, in my 
opinion because I don't think anybody is so omnipotent 
that they should impose their taste on their students. 
Basically what's wrong is it doesn't give a student the 
full set of tools from which he can operate with his par- 
ticular quality of mind and particular kind of perception 
and insight and then fully express himself. Students that 
I've known over the years, whether they were in my class 
or anyone else's classes, who really learned to understand 
structure and other qualities, I don't have to be worried 
about. If they have any art in them, it's going to come 
out. You can't impose art, except superficially. About 
the time they get out of school they begin to get a little 


bit sick of art. After a couple of years of frustration 
and no chance to move ahead, they drop it. And that's 
wrong. That's absolutely wrong. 

GOODWIN: Does a good art teacher necessarily have to be 
a prominent artist? 

SHEETS: Not necessarily. I think that I've known art 
teachers who are extraordinary teachers, but I don't think 
they're theoreticians. I don't think they're people who 
have just studied and looked at art history. I'm speaking 
now on the applied side, strictly. I mean there's a com- 
plete world of art history and philosophy, which you have 
your degree in. I don't have to explain that to you. 
There's no quarrel between what you have had as a back- 
ground and what I'm talking about. 
GOODWIN: Right, I understand that. 

SHEETS: I'm talking about a young person who says, "I 
would like to be a practicing artist in my lifetime." Now, 
I know teachers--I ' ve had some. I think Herbert Jepson was 
one of the best examples that I know. Herbert kept avoiding 
painting and kept avoiding making even exciting drawings, 
which he had obviously the ability to do. But he became 
so involved with teaching that he did not become a dis- 
tinguished artist in his own right. But as a teacher, I 
think he was one of the most effective I've known. He 
taught what he knew, and he knew it well, and he taught 
it with a great deal of taste. Now, you can't ask more 


from anyone than that. I think drawing should be taught 
with good taste. But if you're trying to push taste out 
beyond knowing how, that's bad. He didn't do that. He 
taught damn well. I've known painters who can teach good, 
solid, basic discipline that frees a person. But it's 
just too bad that we have to have so many aesthetes running 
around, all over hell, trying to teach the basic disciplines. 
GOODWIN: Well, do you think far too many art professors 
are bored being professors, and they only teach as a means 
to an end? 

SHEETS: I think they teach it partly as an escape, because 
they can't make it on the front line. I think that what 
you said is also true. I think that they are bored with 
the idea that they have to do it to make a living. They 
probably should thank their stars--although I don't think 
it's good for society — that they have a job because they 
couldn't make it otherwise, and that's what's wrong. Why 
should people teach who can't produce? Now, I don't mean 
that an artist necessarily has to work outside professionally 
if he's a fine teacher. There's a tremendous need for a 
teacher, and great teachers. I think it's just as important 
to be a great teacher certainly as it is to be anything 
else--and maybe more important in many ways because you 
can touch more lives. But I don't think they should 
expect to teach if they can't perform themselves. This 
is what I'm talking about. This is what's happening. 


And, even at Art Center, I gather from talking to some 
of the old staff members over there that I have known for 
thirty-five and forty years--they 're very concerned about 
this very thing that's happening to a degree in Art Center. 
Now, it hasn't happened in Art Center in the same way be- 
cause Art Center is so thoroughly oriented to going right 
into commercial design and into industrial design that 
there's not much chance for nonsense. But if some of the 
teachers are going to teach less thoroughly by becoming a 
little more concerned only with the aesthetic, then it 
irritates the hell out of some of these people that really 
know what they're doing. That's happening because a lot 
of those people of this generation that are teaching have 
never had that serious kind of training. 

GOODWIN: Does Art Center represent the opposite extreme, 
compared to a school like Otis today, in that it over- 
emphasizes the commercial viewpoint and doesn't necessarily 
emphasize fundamentals. 

SHEETS: Well, I think Art Center does emphasize fundamen- 
tals of technical disciplines. I think that they are 
stressing, a little more all the time, aesthetic under- 
standing, and certainly design understanding, which is 
highly important. It is the design that is the aesthetic 
side. But right now when a student or a family having a 
young student comes to me and asks, "Where shall I go?" 
or "Where shall I send my child?" I'm almost forced to 


suggest Art Center today. I have to make it clear that 
though it's certainly oriented definitely to the commercial 
and the industrial, at least you get some basic training 
there, which I can't tell you you're going to get over here 
or over here or over here. That's a lousy compromise. It 
shouldn't have to be that way. 

GOODWIN: Let's end this sequence on an upbeat note. How 
do you possibly teach artists imagination, divorced from 
technical skill? 

SHEETS: No, I don't think you can teach imagination. I 
think that you can point out very clearly that the artists 
of the world who amount to anything and who've lived through 
the various periods of art and who continue to be important 
are loaded with feeling and imagination. That's the reason 
that their work lasts. It isn't because they have only the 
technical skills. Real imagination is freed, if you study 
the history of art, by the most disciplined process of 
learning how to observe and to perceive. The more one 
studies the facts of life and the realities of structure 
and the unbelievable nuances of color in life in every 
aspect, the more your imagination has a chance to grow and 
to blossom. You cannot conjure up what you haven't exper- 
ienced. There's no way, in my opinion. The more you dig 
into a subject, the more you begin to let your mind go and 
fly. It's the most wonderful thing to me to watch, as I 
have watched so many young people, who have gone through 


what looks like these disciplines, and suddenly they're 
moving way out into space over there because this direction 
made it possible for them to do that, this direction of 
digging into the facts. You can't teach people to paint 
imaginatively if they can't paint. You can say, "You 
mustn't think that after you've painted every eyelash on 
the butterfly and petal on the blossom, that that's the 
answer. If you can do that, then maybe you can do some- 
thing, if you have any ideas. Or if you've got some 
feeling or if you have some imagination, you can express 
it." I mean, that's the way it has to be put to them, 
because that's the way it ends up being. People in art 
who have had great imagination are people who weren't ever 
stopped for one minute because they didn't know how to 
paint or draw or design. They're people who were masters 
of their craft, and that's why their imagination can soar, 
[tape recorder turned off] 

GOODWIN: We're going to discuss mural painting now. If 
I remember correctly, your first exposure was as a student 
with Tolles Chamberlain at Chouinard. 

SHEETS: Right. I didn't even know what the word mural 
meant. I didn't know it was as simple as a thing like a 
wall. But when Tolles Chamberlain stimulated the interest 
of several of us in the murals of the past, we began to 
experiment. We had an old back wall where we painted 
pretty bad attempts toward mural painting right there in 


the school. Then a series of things just seemed to open 
up. I was given a chance to do some very large panels in 
a new beach club down south of Long Beach — I guess it's 
Seal Beach now. I was very excited and talked Phil Dike 
into helping me with these murals, and we did about ten 
panels. I guess it was really one of the first jobs, 
although I'd done one, I think, in the YMCA in Pasadena 
before that and two or three other small murals. This was 
the first thing that was, in a real public sense, a mural 
commission. We worked in oil on canvas because that was 
about the only thing we knew in those days. 

Then, just after the crash of '29 — I had come back 
from Europe and I was happily married at that point, 1930 — 
I was given a very large commission to do some murals for 
the Hollywood Savings and Loan. That was a savings and 
loan that was part of the great Beesmeyer group. The 
Hollywood Bank, the Hollywood Savings and Loan, and several 
other big financial institutions were part of a big combine, 
As laws have been passed since that time, it would be 
impossible to have such failure. I worked very hard on 
those murals and hired three or four men to work with me, 
because there was a time problem involved and the panels 
were large. It was the whole history of the motion picture, 
which of course was in its infancy to a degree in those 
days. But we painted them as they were then. The week 
before I finished the murals, the crash really came, and 


not only was the Hollywood Savings and Loan unable to pay 
my bill, which was about 8 percent of the whole contract — 
and I'd been paying labor out for months with what little 
I could get together in those days — but my bank account was 
in the Hollywood Bank. What little money I had in the 
Hollywood Bank was frozen, all the same day. If you don't 
think that was a dark Friday .... But, in any case, I 
owned the murals, and they were pretty valueless to me. I 
remember to this day that two of the fellows that worked 
for me sued me for the last $200 apiece that they had 
coming. And they knew that I didn't have the $200, not 
having been paid for the job. Long before it ever went to 
court, I borrowed the money and paid them off, but I thought 
it was a really strange thing when they knew the whole 
circumstance . 

Then I had a chance to do three big frescoes in the 
South Pasadena Junior High School. It was the most 
beautiful new school, designed by Powell and Powell. The 
principal of that high school (Derwood Baker) was an 
extremely forward-looking person and knew something about 
me and something about the fact that I'd painted some 
murals. He decided he would like to raise the money 
privately to paint two frescoes in a courtyard. I had 
done this work with Siqueiros that I mentioned earlier 
and had done a few small frescoes. But I worked practically 
every night for a whole year, with one assistant. We did 


our own plastering, and we did these two big panels. We 
did one on agriculture; we did one on industry. They're 
all figurative and very large. It was probably technically 
one of the best things I ever did in my life. They were 
true fresco, true Italian fresco — all transparent, no white 
except the white in the plaster. We'd had a very exciting 
time doing them, and I think the students were tremendously 
excited and moved by these murals because they saw them 
actually emerge slowly. Every night they saw a little bit 
more. As you know, in frescoes when you paint, you have 
to plaster the wall with a very dry plaster, and you can 
work on it up to a certain point, the point when it 
oxidizes; then it will no longer receive water or the pig- 
ment, and you're through. If you aren't through, you have 
to scratch off what you've done. Well, we had quite a few 
bad evenings during the rainy season, although we had it 
covered well enough with canvases and so forth. We could 
keep fairly warm, but it was a pretty cool experience 
working out there night after night. We'd start right 
after a normal day's work and work until midnight or two 
in the morning for almost a year. 

The saddest thing happened after that. They were so 
well received, and the students and everybody liked them. 
They were well known at that time — we're talking about 
1930 and '31, because it was before I went to Scripps. 
I mentioned to the head custodian of the school, a 


marvelous elderly man, that there was a way of water- 
proofing fresco if it did get a tremendous amount of water 
on it. I had read about it, but I had never tried it. He 
was worried about the elements, whether the rain and so 
forth would do it damage over a period of time. It was 
on the north wall, and it was enclosed in a court, and 
though there wasn't much of an overhang, I don't really 
think anything would have really eventually hurt them. 
But I had read in a very proper book that if you took pure 
castile soap and made a certain solution — practically non- 
existent as far as soap was concerned; it's just like 1:500 
or l:1000--if that's painted on the mural, that that produced 
a permanent waterproofing process without in any way touching 
the color, or hurting it, or making it in any way other than 
the way it was. But I said that's something we should con- 
sider maybe five years from now, if there's any sense of 
this thing happening. 

Well, without ever discussing it with the principal 
or with me, and with the best of intentions, he destroyed 
the murals. He mixed a very heavy solution that must have 
looked like poster paint when he put it on, and it completely 
destroyed the murals. It looked like someone had been pouring 
milk on them for months. The color was destroyed. You'd 
get certain images through, but it was absolutely beyond 
belief. I didn't know this. I never heard a thing about 
it. The principal changed, and he unfortunately didn't 


call me. Because if he'd called me, I don't know whether 
there was anything we could have done, but there might 
have been something we could have done. But he didn't call 
me. Some general custodian of all the buildings decided 
the thing was just to paint over them, so they painted over 
them with cement paint, and I didn't know that for fifteen 
years. It was fifteen years later that they called me back 
and asked if there was any way of removing this cement. 

Well, we had two experts dig into it, and we found 
that even though we could remove the cement probably with 
a great deal of cost, by picking at it with a small scalpel 
for months, that the thing had been so destroyed underneath 
that there was no value in it. That was a real disappoint- 
ment, and the terrible thing is that I only have two very 
poor little black-and-white photographs of these things 
even as a matter of record. That was a sad experience, 
and I never had any other like that. 

After that experience I started painting murals in 
various banks. When the big fair ^(Golden Gate Exposition, 
1940] was held in San Francisco, just before the war 
started, I did something like 20,000 square feet of murals 
for four different projects. One major job was for the 
exposition itself. I did six enormous panels, with big 
arches at the top, sort of a history of San Francisco idea. 
Then I did two jobs, one for the L.A. Chamber of Commerce, 
a huge mural; I think it was 100 feet long and 30 feet high. 


It went around a half of a circle in a building, in a huge 
room. I can't even remember all of the ones we did because 
most of those were taken down after the exposition. Though 
they are placed somewhere, I don't know where they are. 
They were all on canvas and mounted so they could be 
removed . 

But that's when I really discovered the problem of 
managing a lot of people who were helping me and running 
into labor problems for the first time. I got up there to 
hang them, and they wouldn't let us touch them. We had to 
go through the labor unions in San Francisco, which were 
very tough compared to anything down here in those days. 
That's now reached here, so we're getting into the same 
thing all over. But it was a great experience because 
there was about two-and-a-half years' work where I was 
deeply involved with every facet of planning, designing, 
executing, business relations, labor union relations, and 
then physically getting everything up. It was a good 
experience . 


JANUARY 6, 1977 

GOODWIN: Diego Rivera was working for the San Francisco 

SHEETS: Yes, he did the big job at the stock exchange, 
and also he did a beautiful panel at the San Francisco 
Art Institute. Have you ever seen that? 
GOODWIN: Yes, it's thrilling. 

SHEETS: That's a beautiful painting. That was at his best 
period, that and the things earlier, the ones I told you 
about (or we discussed at least) , the Palace of Education 
in Mexico, which very few people see. It's the most 
extensive job he ever did, except that final one in the 
main palace [Palacio Nacional] , but that became more 
illustrative. In the Palace of Education, there must be 
four major courts and at least twenty panels in each court. 
They're probably twenty-five feet high and ten or twelve 
feet wide. They're magnificent. They're the most brilliant 
things in color I've ever seen him do and extremely beautiful 
fresco technique all the way through. He's an amazing 
artist. The last things don't reflect that at all. But 
the fact that the Mexicans did come up here and Orozco 
came up and did Prometheus at Pomona College gave a boost 
to the whole idea of painting murals. And of course the 
PWA project during the Depression was of great importance. 


We haven't discussed that, have we? 

SHEETS: Well, I was on the committee in charge of the PWA 
project in Southern California, and that was a great exper- 
ience for me. I was young, but I was asked by Edward Bruce 
in Washington, who was a painter that I had known; along 
with Merle Armitage , who was the chairman; and Dal Hatfield, 
who was my dealer. But that isn't the reason I was asked 
to serve. Bruce knew all of us, and he knew that we knew 
the artists, so originally there were three of us. We 
received wires one morning. It was on a Friday. We were 
to put 100 artists to work by Monday night. Well, of 
course that couldn't be done, but it was a very exciting 
thing. The three of us met, and we added two more people 
to our committee, and we really went to work combing the 
names of all of the artists who we knew that were operating 
in Southern California who had both the capacity to do 
things of importance and who also probably needed help. 
It took us about a week, but we did get seventy-five or 
eighty artists working within a week. 

We had some of the most distinguished names in American 
painting. Many who were living here then moved away, of 
course, and lived in other parts of the country. There 
were some very distinguished guys and gals. Lorser 
Feitelson and his present wife [Helen Lundeberg] were on 
the project. We had at least thirty artists that were 
competent mural painters. 


So the first thing we did was to sit down with the 
artists individually, and we offered them many opportunities. 
We were running like mad in every direction. We were going 
to schools, we were going to various public buildings, and 
asking if they would be willing to have a mural painted, if 
we did it through this project. And of course a lot of them 
didn't even know what a mural was, and it took a long time 
to correlate the ability that these artists had with the 
possibilities. But eventually we had things in practically 
all the public buildings here, done by very distinguished 
people . 

Many of these things are still up and are very attractive, 
A lot of them have been removed because the buildings have 
been torn down or for other reasons. But it was a vital, 
wonderful program. It lasted about two and a half years. 
During that time we had people, of course, doing graphics; 
they were painting; there was lots of sculpture. We did 
tremendous numbers of big sculpture projects in parks, and 
a lot of the things that are sprinkled all around Southern 
California were done during that time, as far away as San 
Diego and as far north as Santa Barbara, and all over this 
part of the country. 

GOODWIN: Were there many artists who were excluded because 
they weren ' t good enough? 

SHEETS: The only competent artists that were excluded 
were those that didn't need help. The PWA project was 


designed to really assist people who needed financial help 

during that period. Many of the artists had had a very 

decent income, a very decent job in some instances, and 

a lot of those things disappeared. They really were having 

a hard time to support a family. 

GOODWIN: What kind of payment did the artists receive? 

SHEETS: Well, I'd have to look that up. It was adequate, 

but it was certainly not extravagant. It would be probably 

not unlike what Russia pays its artists in relation to 

their society — maybe not as good, because in Russia today, 

an artist, once he or she is approved in the city, has an 

income which is probably close to about $500, which is a 

lot of money in Russia, or was when I was there sixteen 

years ago. I don't know whether it is today. I think 

that these artists received in the neighborhood of $500 

or $400 a month, which in those days was a great deal of 

money. It was adequate. They were given money for materials, 

and we bought the materials, I think, largely through the 

project, the canvas and the oils or whatever the materials 

were for whatever mural or sculptural project. But there 

must have been at least 150 major projects executed during 

that time . 

GOODWIN : Did you do any of them? 

SHEETS: No. No. I worked the whole time trying to get 

places to paint, and then we met with the artists at least 

three mornings a week, which took a tremendous amount of my 

personal time. 


GOODWIN: Where was the program headquartered? 
SHEETS: We rented a vacant building on Seventh Street, 
not too far from Lafayette Park. We had a good-sized office 
there and enough storage space so we could store a lot of 
material and store a lot of the paintings. As the paintings 
would come in, we'd distribute them to schools and to various 
public buildings. Whereas I never received any money for 
working for the project — we were not paid as administrators 
at all--I did do a couple of large lithographs, colored 
lithographs, which I gave. We printed like 500 each, and 
I keep running into these things at schools and places. 
They were done way back in the thirties. I was able to 
get quite a few artists to give some very important things, 
sometimes an actual painting, sometimes a piece of sculpture. 
All of us who didn't have to have that income — and I don't 
mean to suggest that I had any money; I was pretty broke in 
the Depression. We were having babies, but we had an 
adequate amount to live on. I took time away from Scripps 
and, in the early days, Chouinard to do this work, but it 
was a great experience. 

GOODWIN: Was there a neighborhood where artists tended 
to live in those days, or were they spread out? 
SHEETS: Los Angeles has always been too spread out. There 
was quite a group around [Stanton] MacDonald-Wright, who 
worked up in the North Broadway area. There were a lot of 
studios where all the Civic Center now is. There was a 


bunch of old, interesting buildings, and many artists lived 
in that area, and they had studios there. MacDonald-Wright 
had classes up on Broadway in a building. There were dance 
studios up there, and I mean real dance studios, not just 
where some guy goes to dance. There were little smatterings 
here and there in Hollywood. There were a few up around, 
oh, let's see, that park between Sunset and Temple, Echo 
Park, near the old Aimee Semple McPherson temple [Angelus 
Temple Church of the Foursquare Gospel] . There were quite 
a lot of artists that lived right around in there. But 
there wasn't really a center like New York. The city's 
so spread out. 

GOODWIN: It sounds, though, that there was a greater 
feeling of camaraderie then than today? 

SHEETS: The PWA project during the Depression certainly 
did create a lot of opportunity for artists to meet. About 
the only other things that brought artists together were 
the old California Art Club and the old California Water- 
color Society. The California Art Club was more of a 
social club than anything else, although they did have 
an exhibit every year. The Watercolor Society didn't have 
social meetings, but they were a good society, very young, 
and there weren't many members. I am one of the very early 
members of that, and the older people in it were very good 
watercolor painters, like Vysekal and a whole group that 
had started it. It was a nice group, a national society. 


But the PWA gave all the artists an opportunity, who prob- 
ably wouldn't have seen each other and had much to do with 
one another, a chance to get together. Fletcher Martin is 
the man I was trying to think of who did some very important 
things in the federal building or state building, I've for- 
gotten which. I think it was the federal building. 

Leo Katz was an artist who was living here who had 
been very famous in New York. He's since died. Of course, 
he was in his sixties then. He was a very strong, almost 
heroic, painter and lithographer. He did a couple of big 
murals . 

One of the most modern of all of the painters in New 
York, one of the most exciting contemporary painters, was 
in this group. There were four or five of them that worked 
as a team, and he was one of those. I can't think of his 

There were problems, too, because a few of the artists 
wanted to be political. There's no question but what in 
every group you get a few that are more concerned about 
the political side of their expression than about the other 
sides, the mural side or the decorative side. We ran into 
that as a real problem because within the government, back 
in Washington, we were told very strongly that this could 
not be a vehicle for real communism or any other kind of 
specialism. If an artist was a communist, that wasn't any 
reason we shouldn't put him on the payroll, but he wasn't 


to paint communistic murals. Well, we had a few almost 
knock-down-drag-outs with two or three — only two or three-- 
but it got pretty rough one time. 

I remember we had one fellow who had a great deal of 
ability, but he was obnoxious as hell. He hated everybody — 
not just the committee, he hated other artists. He didn't 
think anybody else was an artist. I remember this great 
guy. Merle Armitage, who wore no man's collar. He was a 
very independent cuss himself and patient up to a point. 
We had, I think, three meetings with this fellow and he 
kept being more and more obnoxious. He developed a little 
more of that each time. Finally he came in the third time, 
and Merle had said this was the last time we were going to 
reason with him. The fellow started a tirade all over again 
about the fact that he thought he should be allowed to do 
any damn thing he wanted to do. Merle said, "Well, my 
friend, I'll tell you, when there's a cancer you get a 
knife and you cut it out." He said, "You've just been 
amputated." It was really funny the way he did it at that 
time. It probably wouldn't seem as funny now. He really 
meant it, and the artist was amputated. But basically 
they were marvelous. 

Some teams came out of the project that were quite 
interesting, people that hadn't known too much about each 
other. One of the greatest guys, of course, without any 
question, was Lorser Feitelson, because he had been a 


teacher long enough and he had been an artist long enough. 
He'd painted all over Europe. He knew his way around, and 
he was not afraid to try anything. He took on, happily, 
several young people, young artists who hadn't been out of 
art school too long. Without really dictating to them, he 
put them under his wing and helped a lot of them learn a 
hell of a lot. He literally was teaching while they were 
working. They were not married at that time, but his wife, 
Helen Lundeberg , who paints under her own name, of course, 
was doing some perfectly beautiful projects of her own. 
Jean and Arthur Ames did a fabulous couple of mosaics down 
at Newport Beach. They were extremely competent, and they 
worked so well and so beautifully together. Later, when 
Jean came to teach for me at Scripps, they decided to get 
married in order to move to Claremont. But there were a 
lot of interesting teams that came out of that whole period, 
people who hadn't worked together before, and I think it was 
a very good thing. I don't think all the art that came out 
of it was great, but I think it was a marvelous, timely 
thing. It was certainly better for an artist than to go 
work on a road project or something else, which so many 
people were doing at the same time. 

It's hard for you to really visualize at your age what 
the Depression was like. It was a discouraging period to 
most people. They didn't know where to turn. I think the 
start with this project was so fast due to Edward Bruce, 


who was a great friend of the president. He was a famous 
lawyer and a very good artist in his own right. You prob- 
ably don't know his work because he wasn't known out here 
very much. But Edward Bruce was a very competent painter, 
and he was very close to Roosevelt. He persuaded Roosevelt 
and the then-head of the Treasury Department that this was 
a good idea. He just reached out and tapped all of his 
friends all over the country to set up these different 
organizations, and almost overnight they did — I don't know 
how many centers, at least eight or ten, maybe more. When 
you think of starting to paint murals all within about a 
month, right on walls, it was quite an undertaking. We 
had very limited means, but I think it was great. Out of 
it came a lot of good painters, all over the United States, 
not certainly just here — painters that I know very well, 
that I've known all my life, that I didn't know worked on 
that project. Henry Varnum Poor and, gosh, I can't even 
begin to tell you the people. It was a marvelous period. 
GOODWIN: What was the next step in your mural painting? 
SHEETS: Well, I think it grew out of the Home Savings 
development, because it was the first time that I'd ever 
had an opportunity to be so deeply involved with the 
combination of the mural and the building. Just as an 
aside, I think that probably in the history of our country, 
there's never been an equal opportunity for any other 
artist than what I've had in this Home Savings relationship. 


It's a commercial enterprise, obviously a free enterprise, 
designed to make a profit. Due to the fluke of a peculiar 
relationship between [Howard] Ahmanson and myself, we 
started the first buildings. 

I had never even heard of Mr. Ahmanson, and one day 
in the mail I received a letter. It was written almost 
like a telegram. It said: "Dear Sheets. Saw photograph 
building you designed, L.A. Times . Liked it. I have two 
valuable properties, Wilshire Boulevard, need buildings. 
Have driven Wilshire Boulevard twenty-six years, know year 
every building built, names of most architects, bored. If 
interested in doing a building that will look good thirty- 
five or forty years from now when I'm not here, call me." 
That was the most amazing letter I ever received. Well, I 
called him, and I could tell you some delightful stories 
about the first meeting. 
GOODWIN: Go ahead. 

SHEETS: Well, I called him up and said, "This is Mr. Sheets 
calling." He just said, "Interested?" I said, "Well, it 
certainly sounds interesting." "Do you ever get hungry?" 
"Well, yes, normally, about noon." "Lunch tomorrow?" I 
said, "Great." He said, "My address is so-and-so and so- 
and-so," and he hung up. 

Well, I didn't know what the hell I was getting into, 
but I went to this place down on South Spring Street. I 
parked next to the number of the building he gave me. He 


said it was top floor. I went upstairs in the most rickety 
elevator I have ever been on. I wasn't sure I was going to 
get to the top, but I got there and stepped right out into 
the worst sweatshop I have ever seen in my life. I've seen 
in the garment areas things that look so much better, where, 
at least, there was space for a human being to move. This 
was a sea of desks and confusion like I've never seen in my 
life and the most miserable lighting. Eventually a lady 
came over and asked me if I was Mr. Sheets. I said yes, 
being the only foreign-looking person in the place. She 
said, "Follow me." Well, following her meant weaving 
through a bunch of desks, turning sideways (and I was 
skinny in those days), and slithering along, and eventually 
getting around through a kind of figure-8 pattern to a door 
into an office, which she opened, and I went in. 

I saw a man sitting in his shirtsleeves, his feet up 
on his desk, with a telephone, and he just nodded to a so- 
called sofa. Well, in my life I have never sat on a sofa 
like this. It was the old-fashioned kind that had loose 
springs that hadn't been tied. The least you'd get is a 
good goose out of one. I sat down, and I hit bottom 
instantly. The room was covered with plaster that had 
been so long up there that there were holes in it. It 
was a sherbet green of natural-colored plaster which had 
not been painted. The lighting in the room was ghastly, 
and the drapes were terrible. The desk had a hole in it 


where his feet had been, I thought, what kind of a gooney 
bird have I gotten myself with here? What is this, anyway? 

In addition to that, he sat there and talked for thirty 
minutes. He had never more than acknowledged the fact that 
I arrived. I sat there, and I didn't know whether or not 
to get up and leave, but this conversation went on and on 
and on. It seemed to be very involved with business, and 
it didn't make any difference to him that I was waiting. 
Finally he hung up suddenly and stood up, reached back on 
an old coatrack, pulled his coat off, and put it on, and 
said, "Let's go." He didn't even say hi. Now we've got 
to go through the figure-8 again, and we go through all 
that same mess. We go back on the same elevator, down to 
the bottom. I don't know where we're going, I suppose some 
little joint on Spring Street. We walk around to the same 
parking lot where I parked, and here's the most beautiful, 
big, overgrown Cadillac I've ever seen, with a nice, colored 
chauffeur. We get in the back seat, and he started out 
towards Beverly Hills. 

I still don't know where we're going — he didn't say — 
but we started a conversation that was so exciting. He 
never discussed anything about the buildings at any time 
and I certainly didn't. He didn't discuss anything about 
the fact that I was an artist or why I was with him. We 
just started on subjects that became more and more inter- 
esting during the entire afternoon. We had a beautiful 


lunch at the Beverly Hills Club. A lot of his friends 
came by. I was introduced to them, they'd walk away after- 
wards, and the conversation would go right back to wnere it 
was. Neither of us knew that we'd reached five o'clock. I 
suddenly looked at my watch, and I had had a three o'clock 
appointment and nearly fainted. I knew this was a real job 
[laughter] and I couldn't care about that appointment. Oh, 
I nearly died. I said, "Mr. Ahmanson, I'm terribly sorry 
but I've got to go. I've got to get to a telephone 
immediately." Well, of course, the people I was to meet 
had gone; they weren't in their office after five o'clock. 
So he said, "Well, I missed one, too. I was supposed to be 
someplace at three-thirty." With that we go out and get in 
his car, and we're driving down Wilshire Boulevard, coming 
east towards Los Angeles from Beverly. As we go by a certain 
block, without even looking, he just takes his finger and he 
says, "That's one of them." Then we go on clear down this 
side of Western Avenue and, "That's another one." That's 
all he said. 

We got down to the parking lot, and all this time 
there's never been one word about a building. I want to 
tell you it was one of the most exciting afternoons I've 
ever had. We talked about everything. I couldn't tell 
you now what we talked about, but I know it was like 
hundreds of conversations I had with Howard after that. 
He was one of the best-read men I've ever known. He read 


every night until two or three in the morning. He couldn't 
sleep, and he just read. He was a very exciting guy, if you 
had him alone. In a crowd, he became a totally different 
human being. He became more pompous, and he became a little 
more braggadocio about his success and so forth. There 
wasn't an inkling of that in this original conversation. 
We got into the parking lot, and he said, "Your car 
here?" I said, "Yes, it's right there." He said, "Do you 
think you could put up with me?" I said, "Well, I don't 
know what you mean." He said, "Well, do you think you 
could put up with me to do a building or two?" I said, "I 
sure can. It doesn't seem to me like it would be very 
difficult because you've put up with me." He said, "All 
right, that settles it. I want you to understand something 
now: I don't want you to telephone me ever. I do not wish 
to discuss these buildings with you. I'm going to let you 
do one, and if it's right then we'll do the other one." I 
said, "Well, Mr. Ahraanson, we've got to discuss budgets. 
I haven't even discussed fees." He said, "You'll be fair 
with me, and I'll be fair with you. The budget — that's up 
to what you build. You build it like you were building it 
for yourself." I said, "I can't take that responsibility; 
no way I can do that." He said, "Well, then you're not 
going to do the job." I said, "I don't even know anything 
about the function. I don't even know what kind of a 
building it is." He said, "I have plenty of people who 


can give you that information, but now listen, don't you 
let them tell you how to design this building. If you 
want to know how many bodies there have to be in the room 
and what they do, fine. But don't you talk design to any- 
one. I want nobody connected with it. I haven't got a 
guy in my organization that knows anything about this. 
And I don't. And I want it done the way you would do it 
if you were doing it for yourself." 

"Well," I said, "I've got to think about that." 
Really, I almost shook all the way driving back to Claremont. 
It was so utterly unusual. I'd done several buildings for 
commercial people, and we'd always set budgets. I'd studied 
the problems and presented the solutions, and then we dis- 
cussed whether we could do what they wanted within the 
budget. Well, none of that with him, no way. 

I finally called him one day, and I said, "Now, I have 
three different solutions, just as preliminary ideas for 
this building. Would you be willing to look at these three 
and even say you had a preference?" He said, "Well, okay, 
okay." I took three sketches in of this first building, 
and I set them down on this god-awful floor in this god- 
awful office, and he looked at them. He walked up and down 
the room for forty minutes, and he never said a word, not 
one word. There wasn't a frown or a smile. He just 
absolutely walked up and down. Finally, he went over, and 
he picked up the telephone, and he called his wife. He 


said, "I'm looking at the goddamnedest building." He 
said, "It's just going to be great." He wouldn't tell 
me — he told her. He said, "I can't wait for you to see 
it. It's going to be just exactly what I wanted." He 
went on and on and on, and he talked to her for forty 
minutes. Well, it was pleasant, but it was a little 
embarrassing, too. Finally he said, "Well, could I borrow 
that sketch tonight, and I'll get it back to you tomorrow?" 
IlaughterJ I said, "Which one?" He said, "That one." He 
never hesitated over what he wanted, and he took it home. 
He sent it out special delivery the next day to Claremont, 
sent a guy out with it, and with instructions that I was 
to talk to so-and-so for my information. 

I went in and talked to this fellow [Kenneth Childs] 
four or five times and did get a lot of information. I 
found out it was an insurance company and a few other 
things, and I went ahead with it. When it was ready to 
let the contract, I called this same guy and I said, "Well, 
the building is all set, and the contract is ready to go." 
He said, "Fire." I said, "Well, don't you want to know 
anything about it?" He said, "It wouldn't make any 
difference to me. It's what the boss wants." 

So we built the building. I got down to the middle 
of construction, and on my sketch I had suggested some 
sculpture and one mosaic and so forth. By this time I 
knew I wanted a certain man to do the sculpture, and I 


was going to do the mosaic, but there were some other things 
involved, too. I had a budget for what the art was going 
to cost. Of course up to this time I always thought of art 
being completely separate, outside the regular budget, as 
it always was presented to me by any architect and by any 
client I'd ever dealt with. So I called him up. He finally 
answered the phone, and I said, "Mr. Ahmanson, I know that 
you've asked me not to bother you, but I have a really vital 
decision that I think you are the only one to make. If you 
remember on that little sketch that you saw, I just indicated 
sculpture and so forth. I have now all the costs on the 
entire art part of this job, and the cost will be so much, 
and I want your approval before I spend that money because 
part of it — the mosaic, of course — will be coming to me." 
We were cut off the phone, cut off the line. I called right 
back, and his secretary answered, and I said, "I was dis- 
cussing the building with Mr. Ahmanson, and we were cut 
off. May I talk to him again?" She said, "Mr. Sheets, 
you were not cut off. He hung up. He said to tell you if 
you called back that this is your problem." At that point 
I thought, well, to hell with you, we'll do it. 
GOODWIN: Right. [laughter] 
SHEETS: So we went at it, and we did it. 
GOODWIN: What was the additional cost? 

SHEETS: Oh, it was nothing in those days — I think $37,000 
for all of the art, which was a tremendous amount of 
sculpture. Oh, boy. 


Anyway, when the building was finished and we were 
taking the bullworks down, the wall along the street to 
protect the pedestrians from your building and so forth, 
it was on a Friday morning. I was planning to call him 
that afternoon for a Saturday morning walk-through, because 
he told me he wanted a turnkey job. The telephone rang in 
the job office. I practically lived in that job office on 
that job, and I had beaten everybody's ears down on costs. 
He knew what he was doing. I saved so much money on that 
building by making people think they were lucky to be part 
of it. The telephone rang about eleven o'clock in the 
morning, and I answered it, and he said, "Sheets?" I 
said, "Yes." He said, "This is Howard." He said, "Why 
didn't you tell me you were taking those barricades down?" 
"Well," I said, "we aren't done with them. We're just 
taking them down, and I had planned this afternoon to call 
you and see if I could make a date with you tomorrow morning 
or Monday morning, whichever was most convenient." He said, 
"I'll be there in five minutes." In five minutes he drove 
through the rear entrance into the most beautiful garden. 
I had moved trees that were thirty-five and forty years 
old. I had planted lawn by the method where you move turf. 
The place looked like it had been there for fifty years. 
There was a great court in the back where all the employees 
could go out and have lunch, with a beautiful fountain. 
There was a suite of offices for him and a boardroom. 


which was separate entirely from the big operation of the 
insurance company because he was handling many different 
organizations at the time. Then there was space for the 
operation of the insurance company as well as a lounge for 
all of the secretaries. 

He drove in the back and parked exactly where I 
designed for him to park. He got out of his car and stood 
there, and his eyes just turned. You've never seen the 
intensity with which he swept that whole courtyard. Then 
he moved forward about twenty feet and looked down into 
the sunken part of it, looked at it, turned to me, no 
smiles, no anything, just blank, said, "Where do we start?" 
Well, I thought we had already started, but anyway I took 
him back through the rear entrance, which I designed really 
for him, so he wouldn't have to go out through the main 
office. I took him into the boardroom, where I had the 
most beautiful fireplace and a sculpture as an integral 
part of the fireplace, marvelous furniture, and a special 
table that I designed and had built. I took him into his 
offices. I even had beautiful models of fire engines made 
that cost me two or three thousand dollars apiece. I just 
wanted to make this so personal to him. And, oh, I bought 
one of the greatest Japanese screens, one I wish I owned 
myself today, that I hung in the boardroom. I did every- 
thing as he had said, "For me." He goes over to his desk, 
which was, boy, it was a Cadillac of desks. I designed 


every inch of it, and it had been built by Coliombia Showcase 
Company . 

He goes over, sits down in this big chair, puts his 
feet right smack up in the middle of that desk, and he just 
sat there. It was forty-five or fifty minutes that he kept 
looking around. There were beautiful recessed cases for 
some of his yachting trophies and so forth. He just roamed 
around there, no word, no excitement, no disdain, no "yes," 
no "no." Finally he got up and asked, "Where do we go next?" 
We went through the whole building like that, a step at a 
time . 

Finally we went out to what I thought was the most 
exciting entrance to the building, the entrance lobby. 
I had sculptured grills and all kinds of things. He looked 
it all over, every inch of it, walked out the front door, 
looked along the street, walked across the street, leaned 
up against a lamppost and started to laugh. By this time 
I'm mad. It was two and a half hours from the time that 
guy had arrived; it was almost two o'clock in the afternoon. 
He hadn't said one kind word, and he started to laugh. I 
thought, well, you laughing son of a bitch, it's no laughing 
matter if you'd spent a year and a quarter on a project, 
and this is the reaction. He turned to me and he said, 
"Millard, you know, I thought a lot of times when the bills 
came in on this building that I was a little whimsical when 
I said, 'Do it the way you want to do it for yourself.' 


But I want to tell you something." He said, "I am so 
crazy about it, but that is only half of it. This is 
going to make money, which 1 didn't plan." I said, "What 
do you mean it's going to make money?" He said, "This is 
going to sell insurance." I said, "Well, okay, but if you 
like it, it's okay." He said, "I'm crazy about it. Start 
the other one tomorrow." Well, that was our relationship 
for so many years that it was really incredible. And of 
course that's when I discovered that if you design a 
building that requires art, they would have to use it. 
GOODWIN: Right. 

SHEETS: Secondly, he had the sense to know that it was 
going to make business. Neither of us could believe the 
attention that that little piddling building got. It was 
on Wilshire Boulevard, and unfortunately we had to tear it 
down when we built the big Ahmanson Center. There was no 
way of explaining how the public reacted to that damn 
building. It was incredible. It was in all the magazines; 
it got awards, everything. It was just crazy. 

So when we finished the next one, in the first ten 
days after it opened, $19 million walked in the front 


SHEETS: The use of that money paid for the entire building- 
the property, the furnishings, the landscaping, all of the 
art — in the first ten days; it more than paid for it. The 


longest that any of those Ahmanson buildings have taken 
to pay for themselves is six months. That's the longest. 
GOODWIN: How many have you done since? 
SHEETS: About forty. 
GOODWIN: Forty! 

SHEETS: So it is not an accident. I mean there's no 
question but that the public responds to a kind of 
presence, if you can create it. Now I have no illusions 
about how good they are. I can tell you more about what's 
wrong with my buildings than any other person in the world. 
I can take the gaff that the architects and a lot of other 
people throw at me because, number one, I've never compro- 
mised, ever, on any building I've ever done. If they're 
bad, it's my fault, not Mr. Ahmanson ' s or Home Savings or 
anybody's else. I design them for a purpose, and I design 
them with the best taste that I can put in them. I get 
the best artists that I can, although I can't always get 
the ones that I want. I know there's a challenge and that 
it's the reaction of the public that's important. The 
reaction has been so extravagantly good, in terms that 
people just like to be identified with the buildings, 
they like to go there and see the art; they like to feel 
that it's a different flavor than they usually get. Now, 
of course, there's been more and more of it done since we 
did it in those early days, as there will be more and 
more. But I think the astounding thing is that for 


twenty-seven years, even after Howard's death nine or ten 
years ago, the company has gone right on with the same 
idea. That's why I say I don't think in the history of 
this country have there ever been an opportunity for an 
artist to do what I've been able to do without trying to 
sell anything or in any way trying to do anything except 
what the client really wants. They need it. They know it. 
There isn't any question about it. 

This, of course, led to so many exciting things, such 
as the development of a regular staff to do stained glass, 
which we do in Pasadena. To keep the number of artists 
that have been involved in these buildings that I've done 
going full time with years of work ahead, with no question 
about whether they have a job or not, it's a pretty exciting 
thing that I've been able to do. The number of incredible 
commissions that I've been able to give artists all over 
the United States, not only for Howard Ahmanson but for the 
banks in Texas and other places that I've done work, is 
amazing, always because people traveling to California 
saw these things, got in touch with me, and said, "We 
need this down here," "We need this down there." One down 
here leads you to another place and another place. I've 
never solicited a job, ever. 

It isn't because they're that good. It's because 
we've tried to create something that people would feel 
excited about being connected with. That's the only basis 


that can explain it. Howard and I were the most shocked 
of all, in both instances, by the response to the first 
two buildings. Then Home began to put out questionnaires. 
They said on the questionnaires, "Why do you choose Home 
Savings?" Well, a small percent, I would say maybe 8 per- 
cent of people, ever answered questionnaires; but out of 
the percentage that did answer it, 90 percent said, "Your 
buildings look like you're a solid company. Your buildings 
have a feeling that we enjoy. We're proud to bank in your 
buildings." Now, you can't knock it. When some of the 
architects call them mausoleums, fine. Don't they wish 
they had a client that lasted twenty-seven years and went 
on and on supporting what they did? 

We're starting a whole new thing now that is going to 
come out pretty soon. For twenty-five years at least. Home 
Savings has given around $20,000 a year to San Francisco 
and Los Angeles for their big art festivals. Well, those 
things have been so badly run in most instances in the last 
ten years that they've become obnoxious — I mean, really 
bad. Now we have started on a totally new plan, where 
I'm sure we're going to do something of significance for 
the artist, really significant, on a level that will attract 
a totally different brand of everything. It will assure me 
the use of very exciting works in all of these buildings, 
original works. Instead of buying reproductions and things 
to put in the private offices and so forth, we're going to 


be able to use original works. And Home is interested as 
hell in this, not in a kind of cheap, lip-service way. 

Howard himself became an art collector, and so many 
of the other people have become very involved as people 
who demand art in their own lives and in their own homes. 
Into a large number of homes, I've been able to get marvelous 
things done by artists, because they come to me and they say, 
"Where can I get these things?" Well, it's exciting. I 
believe so deeply that if you are really anxious to solve 
problems, that the problems are thicker and they'll come 
to you faster than you can keep up with them. 

Of course when we got really involved in these Home 
Savings things we became excitingly involved with glass 
and metal and wood and stone and mosaics. We have had 
tapestries woven for twenty years. Where I want a sound 
problem quieted down, instead of using hard material, I 
use a tapestry. I designed a lot of them, and I had a lot 
of them designed by other artists, sometimes from my own 
staff. The beauty of it is that these artists have learned 
to believe that there is a place for them. And they're not 
doing compromising things. Anything you saw over there on 
the floor today [in the mosaic studio] is the best that we 
can do. If it isn't good, it's our fault. 


JANUARY 11, 1977 

GOODWIN: Last session we began to discuss Mr. Sheets 's 
work with Home Savings and Loan. He explained how, when 
he was commissioned to do the first building, Mr. Ahmanson 
was looking for a building which was much more interesting 
than the ones he knew on Wilshire Boulevard. He was also 
looking for a building that would be interesting thirty- 
five years after it was built. What were the other criteria 
he had in mind and others that you employed in designing 
the Home Savings buildings? 

SHEETS: I think that's a very good question, George. He 
felt that in most American commercial buildings there had 
been a lack of art--not merely in terms of perhaps hanging 
pictures, but art that was integrated into the design of 
the building, both in sculpture and in murals of various 
kinds. His general reaction, I should say, to our sur- 
roundings was that we were rather culturally deficient in 
this respect. He believed that people would be very much 
interested in the inclusion of the arts. He said, "I don't 
have any idea how to go about it, I don't know where you 
would go for artists other than yourself or whom you might 
choose, and I think we should definitely, from the very 
beginning, think in terms of including art — not in some 
superficial way but in a way that would make the building 


more exciting and create a presence that doesn't exist in 
most commercial buildings." He said, "Most of them are at 
best well decorated by good furniture and occasional hangings 
and reproductions and so forth, but I want something that 
is really a part of the building." 

So from the very beginning, I, needless to say, was 
delighted to think of the building as being not a form that 
you left a space or two and marked "mural" or "mosaic" or 
something else in, but as a form that required these arts 
to be an integral part of it. The sculpture was, of course, 
related both in scale and material. Sometimes we worked in 
bronze. Sometimes we worked in fired ceramic that became 
an actual part of the body of the building. We also 
carved, in many instances, right into the live stone. 
We've worked in almost every way that you can work in 
sculpture. We've had a great deal of work done in wood 
as well as in bronze and metals of various kinds. We've 
welded as well as cast. In mosaics we've gone the gamut. 
I guess in a period of over twenty-seven years, we must 
have done at least seventy-five mosaics in Home buildings 
alone. But very often we had more than one facade in which 
we've used mosaics. We've worked them inside the buildings 
as well as outside. The response to mosaics is really very 
exciting. People like the richness of the glass and the 
vibration of the textures. And of course, the ideas: 
we've nearly always used symbols that would symbolize 


Home Savings — the family, the home. Or sometimes if it's 
an industrial area, or if it's in a highly recreational 
area, we've tried to do subjects that seem to fit the 
best we can into the area as well as to become architec- 
turally right. 

GOODWIN: Is there a formula you've developed? 
SHEETS: I would say to a degree. And to a degree we've 
been frozen, too, based upon the success of the early 
buildings. The early buildings were phenomenally successful 
from the point of view of the company or the corporation. 
What I mean by that is that the public reaction was so 
strong that the first Home Savings building literally paid 
for itself in the first ten days of operation. We built 
that building on Wilshire Boulevard in the heart of Beverly 
Hills, right across the street on the same north side from 
where they had been doing business for about nine years. 
In nine years the old building had taken in approximately 
$11 million in deposits. It was a very nice building, not 
unattractive, but it didn't have anything specifically to 
separate it from the other things on Wilshire Boulevard. 
When we built the new building, we had both mosaic and 
sculpture, and it had a different feeling entirely. In 
the first ten days, $19 million walked in the front door. 
Now, that was a great shock to Mr. Ahmanson, and it was 
probably a greater shock to me because neither of us had 
been thinking in terms of this being so important to 


business. But immediately it was apparent that it was 
important to business. And as years went on, they made 
many polls. They had customers fill out various kinds of 
questionnaires. Out of the small number of people that do 
fill out the questionnaires, some 90 percent of them said 
the reason they came to Home was they admired the buildings 
and had felt pride in banking in such a building. 

Well, we got to the point where we couldn't knock what 
they were saying. We had to accept it. That had a disad- 
vantage because once that had been established, Mr. Ahmanson 
was very afraid of changing the basic scheme of things. 
That's why there has been certain repetition of using, for 
instance, travertine on the outside, of using certain things 
that have made the buildings always recognizable. Of course, 
when I designed that first shield, which I designed just as 
a symbol of Home Savings, I didn't know I was going to see 
it twenty times a day on television and in some forty-five 
buildings now. It's something that has become . . . 
GOODWIN: A trademark? 

SHEETS: ... a definite trademark. It's a logo that is 
well established. The same thing with the mosaics. The 
family theme I have wanted to break away from — not always 
by any means, because I think it's a fine theme. The home 
is absolutely what Home is all about, and I can't suggest 
that we could have a better one. But on occasions it would 
be interesting to deviate a great deal, just for a particular 


place or for some special purpose. But that's been rather 

The whole idea of monolithic buildings, I've never 
been able to get them to give up. Lots of times I wanted 
to use a lot of glass, say, on the north side of the 
building. But they have gotten the feeling from the 
public that they like the sense of security that these 
buildings have had. I know lots of architects and designers 
have made fun of them and have referred to them on several 
occasions — it always comes back to me--as being rather like 
mausoleums, but I think many of them wish that they could 
design a couple of mausoleums that would produce the 
incredible return, which is, after all, what an architect 
or a designer is supposed to do, in my opinion. It is to 
serve the need of the client. 

At the same time, I have to say unequivocally that I 
have never done one thing on those buildings to compromise 
my own personal understanding or taste. If the buildings 
are not good, it's because I lack whatever they lack. I 
don't wish ever to suggest that the client has put me into 
a corner. I've always taken the facts — the particular ter- 
rain where a building is, the size of the property, the 
budget that is involved, and the use of the building — into 
consideration, and I have done the best job I can knowing 
that those are facts I must deal with. 

GOODWIN: So you don't try and cater to the public's image 
of what fine art is? 


SHEETS: Not at all. If I catered at all, it's to my own 
concept. It hasn't changed too much, although I would have 
loved to have had more flexibility. One time, for instance, 
I complained strongly to Mr. Ahmanson. I didn't really 
complain — I just in a very enthusiastic way said, "Howard, 
it's time that we grew a little bit. Let me do three or 
four different concepts for this new building. It's a very 
important building." He said, "Fine, go ahead. Let's see 
what you do." I made four very complete designs for the 
same building--that is, a building that had to go on one 
spot--and I took all four of them in. He looked at them 
with very serious thought. I know he gave them a great 
deal of consideration, and he finally ended up by saying, 
"Millard, I like all of them. But I'm not willing to 
gamble, to change the image to the extent that three of 
these buildings do." He said, "I'll stick with this fourth 
one, which is a little nearer what we do. You can always 
have latitude, but I just know that it's foolish for us to 
get off of something that we know is right. The image is 
established. Whether all people like it or not isn't the 
important thing." [laughter] "Masses of people who put 
their money there for security and for return are, after 
all, the reason that we've spent the money to do the 
buildings. " 

I think it's an interesting lesson. It convinces me 
that to simply impose a personal artist's style or a personal 


artist's attitude upon all problems, regardless of what the 
problem is, is not a good solution to a problem. I've known 
some marvelous designers whose work I admire tremendously, 
but many of the buildings are nonfunctional. They do not 
produce what we're talking about here in the way of return 
in a free enterprise system for an investment. In the 
private home, that's a totally different matter, and in 
many other instances you are not tied down. But in most 
instances, you are tied down to the problem that someone 
is going to invest in the building. They buy the land, 
they pay for the building, and they have a tremendous amount 
of money involved. I think it is the duty of the designer 
to think out the needs and the solutions, recognizing that 
if you are working with this part of the public or the whole 
part of the public, which in this case we are, it makes a 
difference how you solve the problem. I suppose if you're 
doing a museum and you're appealing primarily to a certain 
type of sophistication, that you might have a chance to do 
certain things that you wouldn't have in a building like 
this, although we have had astounding reactions from all 
sections of life, and that's pleasing to me as a designer. 
It doesn't tell me that the buildings are any better, but 
I do know I've solved the problem. 

GOODWIN: What are the various steps involved in building 
a building, as far as you're concerned? 
SHEETS: The first problem — and it's getting to be the most 


difficult headache of the whole business — is the limited 
terrain you have. Of course it's becoming more and more 
necessary to get a great deal more property to do the same 
thing because of the controls now that are imposed upon 
every building by new requirements. I'm not speaking of 
the safety requirements of the building restrictions. 
Building restrictions, I would fight to agree with until 
the last dog was hung, because they're safety factors. 
But when you get into aesthetics and into questions of 
taste, the new kind of standards that are being set up 
by, often, very young and inexperienced people, or people 
who are strictly bureaucratic in their approach, become so 
unreasonable. Whereas it used to take a matter of months 
to get a building through a city, generally it takes a year 
to two years today. The commissions seem to have little or 
no interest in whether you ever get it through or not. It's 
a strange period we're going through of bureaucratic control, 

Now the parking problem has become, obviously, one of 
the chief problems. I can't disagree today with the 
requirements that are laid down by most cities for parking. 
But it's astounding how much more property you have to have 
for parking than you have for building: maybe four-to-one 
or five-to-one or sometimes six-to-one, depending upon the 
intensity of the area. These are all problems you have to 
face. Before you can think about anything creatively, you 
got to get a ground plan that takes up so much space. Now, 


we know that an office that is going to have, let's say, 
twenty-four windows and eighteen new- account desks calls 
for a certain-sized building. We know before we even start 
the building that we cannot squeeze extra desks and windows 
into anything that isn't big enough. So right from the 
start we know the building's going to be, let's say, 90 x 
120. That's just the building. Now, the moment you estab- 
lish that the percentage of usable space in that building 
dictates the number of cars per 100 square feet in the 
building, so you have to multiply or divide or whatever it 
is and get your number of cars. Then you've got to figure 
ingress: where the city will let you come in or off from 
the street. They're getting very much tougher about that 
all the time, which they should, because of the safety 
factors. I would never fight most of those problems. Once 
in a while they're unreasonable, but generally speaking I've 
found that that kind of an engineer is a person you can deal 
with. They're not the bureaucratic boneheads that you run 
into on the architectural design committees. 

Most of these people came out of one school. I think 
we mentioned this, didn't we? The new School of Architecture 
at the University of California at Berkeley has been primarily 
turning out city planners and people who have only one 
interest, and that is planning the future of everybody 
else's life. Most of them are not trained as architects, 
even though they claim to be, and they have a very inner 


clique now that is operating in almost all the small cities 
of California, and they're creeping into the big cities. 
These people who have graduated primarily from that school, 
where they have really been doing social planning more than 
anything else, have become extremely arbitrary and extremely 
tough to deal with. They've got so much support from the 
ecologists today, the ecologists not understanding entirely 
what they're supporting, but they get backing that gives 
them the possibility of really putting people into corners. 

I had a recent experience with one of these fairly 
good-sized cities, in how one of these planners operates. 
Now, you must go and see them perhaps two months before you 
submit even your first rough, preliminary concept in order 
to pay lip service to them and also to get whatever ideas 
they will give you, which are very guarded because they 
don't want to be responsible for anything that you do; they 
just want to be a critic. That's easy, you know, if you 
get guys coming back ten times, twelve times, or fifteen 
times, and I made seventeen trips in one of these cities 
before I got the design through. It was bureaucratic con- 
trol, and never any advice, always criticism. It is getting 
more arbitrary and more arbitrary. During the early stages 
of that particular experience, I said, "Now, where are the 
rules in your building setup here in the city that say this 
has to be and that has to be and this cannot be?" He said, 
"We don't have any of them." I said, "What power do you 


have?" He answered, "Well, if you want to get 'this thing 
through the city, you'll do it the way we want it or else 
you're not going to get it through. We'll create too many 
roadblocks for you." Now, that's pretty threatening, and 
it's pretty sad, too, and it's pretty shocking in terms of 
our times. I'm not speaking only about my problems; I'm 
speaking about every single architect and designer I know. 
They are just going crazy. 

Then, of course, the Coastal Commission was infinitely 
worse. That added a totally new dimension to the problem 
because they were taking upon themselves responsibilities 
and decisions that they were absolutely out of range on. 
They didn't know what they were doing, and they were so 
arbitrary, and they stopped more good things from happening 
than you can believe. 

You have to consider all these things in answering your 
question, which was, "What are the first things?" Well, 
first you have to be sure you're meeting all the standards-- 
or not even standards; they're requirements. Sometimes 
they're good standards, and sometimes they're arbitrary. 

Well, then, from that point on, the fun begins. Then 
it's really exciting. You say we're going to work in this 
area along this line because it fits into the community. We 
don't always copy the style of the other people; I don't 
mean that. But I wouldn't want to put a very polished 
granite or marble building in the middle of an area that's 


surrounded with a bunch of brick and wood and plaster, though 
sometimes we do. Even in those areas, if we have a separate 
site that's so completely by itself, with nothing around it, 
we can do it. But we try to fit in, not only in subject 
matter for the art end of it but in the materials we use. 

We're doing a building right now that is going to be a 
dark brick, which we haven't ever used before, because the 
buildings around it are mostly dark brick, and we like to 
fit in. We don't want to be a sore thumb. On the other 
hand, we're not going to lose our image, either. We're 
going to keep the forms that will make it work. So your 
function is first, after you get all the long-range planning 
out of the way. 

After you get the function inside operating, then the 
outside nearly always grows pretty simply and clearly — the 
choice of materials, the size of openings, the amount of 
decoration — and then I'm always involved completely with 
the planting as well as the furnishings. 
GOODWIN: Do the people that work for you do the plans? 
SHEETS: I do all of the designing, every bit of it. I 
detail everything, but I have marvelous people working with 
me who put it all down in final working drawings. In the 
old days we did everything. At one time I had four archi- 
tects working for me and about ten draftsmen and engineers. 
We did the whole thing right in our office. But as time 
has gone on, I have been working with Home Savings in a 


new dimension. I'm now the director of their design program. 
I still design the buildings, and I have my own staff. I 
have two architects, who are excellent collaborators with 
me, and they finish up the preliminary phases of the design, 
which I present to the client. When those are approved, 
then I associate with an outside architect, generally in 
the vicinity where we do the building. If it's in the north, 
we try to work with architects in the north, for obvious 
reasons: it's good for them, they know the problems, and 
they can take the plans in and push them through the building 
department. They can do the supervision in the early part 
of the work, when you're excavating and putting in all your 
rough framing and steel and all that. Then I do all the 
supervision for the final stages, when we put in all the 
final finishes and the landscaping. 

GOODWIN: Is there a so-called art budget for each building? 
SHEETS: Well, fortunately. Home Savings has never ever 
wanted to segregate it. Now that's not true of most cor- 
porations, believe me. That's why I think Home is so very 
unusual in having continued this approach for some twenty- 
six or -seven years now. They've never backed away from the 
idea that the arts were essential, since they proved to be 
good in the first two or three buildings. They have never 
backed away from this. And even though Mr. Ahmanson died 
ten or more years ago, his nephews, Bill and Bob Ahmanson, 
and other members of the board who've carried on have never 


wavered, really at all, in the idea of the importance of 
the arts. We don't really have a set budget. They know 
that I am going to use it only where I think it's going to 
do us the most good. I would never just pad it with any- 
thing, but wherever I think that we can get a good public 
response to catch attention, we'll use it. We do probably 
as much on the outside as we do on the inside, if not more, 
for that reason: that it gives the passerby a sense of 
what is going on inside, and inside, we make it as beautiful 
as we can. 

I can't overstate the importance of the landscaping, 
because we try, when we open a building, to make it look 
like it's been there for fifteen or twenty years and not 
like it's a freshly planted building. We buy beautiful, 
big trees and spend a great deal of time and a great deal 
of money moving them. We bring them into the community as 
though they've really been established for a long time. 
People appreciate this very much, the public as a whole. 
Certainly it makes it more fun for me because landscaping 
is just as much a part of the building as all the interior 
furnishings. That's why I do them all in my office. 
GOODWIN: Can you give me some idea of costs? What do you 
spend on mosaics and sculpture and things like that, com- 
pared to the overall expenses? 

SHEETS: Let's just take one figure, for example. Let's 
say the building costs a million dollars. Of course in 


the old days, our buildings didn't cost anything like that. 
The first building we built in Beverly Hills, I know that 
we built for under twenty dollars a square foot, including 
all of the art, but that was twenty-six years ago. Our 
buildings today run probably in the area of around thirty- 
six to thirty-eight dollars, including the art, per square 
foot. I would say that, on a million dollar building, we 
would probably spend in the neighborhood of $80,000 for 
art. Now that would include the mosaics. It would include 
whatever murals or tapestries were inside, and it would 
include stained-glass windows. 

We use a great many stained-glass windows. I did it 
sort of as a fluky idea in the first building because I 
always wanted to make a stained-glass window, and I thought 
it would be fun to do a window showing different periods of 
barter in the ancient days. I never thought I'd be doing 
more than one of these things. I used the theme of money 
and bartering, and the development of money. I had some 
beautiful engraved glass panels. Then I had bartering done 
in stained glass as a frame around these money symbols, 
from the ancient Egyptian coming on through into all the 
different cultures. Well, the response to stained glass 
was surprising. I'd always thought of it as being primarily 
something that would go into a church or a synagogue or in 
a building of that kind, but not at all. The public just 
simply reacts to the stained glass as a most exciting sort 


of a thing. I think the color is what does it and the 
brilliance of the glass. There's hardly a building that 
doesn't have major stained glass. I've just finished one 
in San Francisco, and I saw the glass up in place last 
Friday. It's probably fifty feet wide, though it isn't 
completely solid--there are some clear, interesting spaces 
in it — but it's about thirty feet high. Now, that's a huge 

The most exciting thing about these windows to me is 
that one of the young ladies [Susan Hertel] who has worked 
with me for twenty-four years does all the stained-glass 
designing now. She does all of the execution of it along 
with the glass man who's been here in Pasadena a long time, 
John Wallace. She makes the original design in color on a 
scale sketch. Then she blows the thing up full size into 
a full-size cartoon. Then she takes the cartoon, after 
having broken it down into every shape of every piece of 
glass and all the leading and everything else, into the 
Wallace studio, and she picks every single color out of 
probably more than a thousand colors which she has there 
to select from. Then after the glass is cut and mounted 
with hot wax on a huge plate glass she goes in and does 
all of the painting on the glass, freehand, just looking 
at her sketch. She's a master, really, at both the drawing 
and design. Then after she finishes doing the painting, 
the glass is fired. That paint that she uses is not paint. 


of course; it's really a black glass powder, and it's put 
on with sugar water, which, mixed with this glass powder, 
makes a thick little paste that you can paint with. Then 
when that goes into the electric kiln, it fires and becomes 
an integral part of the glass. It can never be removed; 
it's a finished, permanent thing. Then it's leaded and put 
into the window frames and then taken out on the job. It's 
a complete process. But that's become one of the most 
fascinating things in our buildings, I think, from the 
public point of view. 

We work very much also with tapestries, and people do 
respond to them. Those are woven either in Aubusson in 
France or in Portugal. We've done a great deal of work 
with tapestries. 

We also work in ceramic tile; we've done some huge 
murals, both at Home Savings and in other places. I 
developed some special glazes with some very fine ceramic 
engineers over a period of about nine years when I was the 
head of design for the Interpace Corporation. We were doing 
experimental work, and as a result of that, we were able, 
literally, to paint in glaze, which is something that's 
never been done before by anyone. There have been marvelous 
things done in Persia and all over the world in clay and 
tile, but the glazes were all underglazes, meaning that 
they put on a kind of a slip glaze, and it was all fairly 
narrow in color range. They did get some beautiful blues. 


brilliant yellows, and reds, but they were slip glaze and 
they were very low fire. Then on top of that they put a 
shield of glass painted on, which, when fired, protected 
this slip glaze. That's a technique that's ancient. It 
goes back a couple of thousand years at least, probably 
more like 3,000 or 4,000. But for the first time we were 
able to develop a full palette. Any color that you've 
ever seen in paint, we were able to develop and to make 
a one-fire proposition out of it, which was just unheard 
of before. For instance, they could never fire the best 
reds at the same temperature that they would fire a blue. 
One or the other would give up the ghost and disappear or 
turn into another color. It took us years to do this, but 
we developed it. What these ceramic engineers did is an 
incredible accomplishment. They accomplished it mainly 
because I goaded them into it, and also they had the com- 
pany to back it and they spent hundreds of thousands of 
dollars in research on this project. So I was able to 
take advantage of those things, and we've done some big 
ceramic murals. 

GOODWIN: It sounds like many of the media used in Home 
Savings buildings — stained glass, mosaics, tapestries — 
are media of, as you suggested, the medieval world, 
churches and so on. 

SHEETS: That's right, that's absolutely true. 
GOODWIN: But on the other hand, I'm reminded of the fact 


that Picasso and Miro and Matisse and Chagall and Leger, 
all these people, have revived many of the same media. 
SHEETS: Absolutely. I think that's the exciting thing 
about modern painting and modern art. When painting became 
so completely photographic, as it did toward the end of the 
nineteenth century, and modern art developed as a revolution 
against that slavery to the eye, along with it came a 
tremendous, renewed interest in primitive art, as you well 
know, influence of the African art, the influence of the 
early, early, early Renaissance and before, going way back 
into archaic Greece and archaic China and everywhere else. 
I think that, naturally, as the artists went back for 
inspiration — and they did, no question about it — they became 
much more concerned with the beauties of Byzantine architec- 
ture and Byzantine sculpture and Romanesque, and also in 
the materials in which these great art works were expressed. 
There has been a tremendous revival . 

What makes me sad is that it isn't an integral part 
of education again. Now they do teach a lot of ceramics, 
but mostly a very limited view of that field. It's not a 
limited field — it's a fantastic field. They do teach 
occasionally a little bit of piddling stained glass. Most 
of the sculpture is abstract and welded or carved out of 
wood or something. But to get back to the point where they 
make people free, they just aren't doing enough of it, 
because these materials mean extra opportunities for 


artists. The more materials you work in and the more you 
understand and master, to a degree at least, the more 
exciting your possibilities are as a human being, as an 
artist to meet special needs. 

I remember all my life that people have come to me 
with problems that were completely outside of my realm. 
It's appalling if you're reaching out how these things 
come towards you without any soliciting on your part. 
I've always felt it's an exciting challenge. Well, how 
did an artist handle this material? The only way to find 
out is to do it, and you do it. I think I described that 
to you in painting fresco. I'd never painted a fresco 
until I won a competition, and then you read a book and 
figure out a few logical things and you go about it. But 
that should be part of an artist's education. 
GOODWIN: Which of the several Home Savings buildings have 
you enjoyed doing the most? Which are the ones you think 
are the most successful? 

SHEETS: Well, from the point of view of putting ideas and 
building and function together, I think maybe the one in 
Hollywood. The one at Sunset and Vine is a good one because 
there we happened to have a site which was the particular 
site where the first full-length motion picture was made 
in Hollywood. So without having to search too much for 
themes, we decided that we'd make motion pictures the theme 
of the art in the building. I designed a semiabstract 


arrangement on the front of the building, underneath the 
overhang. I made some very simple stripes of figures with 
an organic sort of a movement through them. Then between those 
were black granite panels, vertical stripes that had hundreds 
of names carved into them in gold of the great stars in 
Hollywood. So it's a little bit like the history of Hollywood, 
just to go stand in front and read the names. But between 
the names are many portraits, full-length figure portraits 
of some of the greatest stars. This was a hell of a problem 
because it isn't too difficult to cut a head or do a figure 
in mosaic, but when we found ourselves trying to do por- 
traits of people that everybody in the world knows through 
motion picture, it was a hell of a challenge. It was very 
exciting because I think we did keep them as works of art, 
solid and simple. At the same time they do work, and people 
do know who they are. There are some of those also on the 
rear side of the building. 

On the interior. Sue Hertel , this young gal whom I 
mentioned worked for me, did a stained-glass window that 
I think is one of the most exciting windows, one of the 
best I've ever seen. We were fooling around for ideas or 
subject matter, and I said, "Sue, I've got a great idea, 
the chase. All of the early pictures somebody was chasing 
somebody. The Indians were chasing the cowboys and vice 
versa, and in the Mac Sennett comedies, everybody was 
chasing everybody. Buster Keaton was being chased. Even 


Moby Dick was being chased. Let's do it like a series of 
film strips, some big and wide and strong and some narrower, 
and we'll show the little perforations along the edge of 
the strip to suggest that it is film. Then in a very 
abstract way, let's do this whole window just full, again, 
of the kind of thing that made motion pictures what they 
were in the early days." That's one that everybody admires. 
It's been reproduced in all sorts of magazines all over the 
country. The tourist agencies run busloads of people out 
there every week in Tanner buses to look at the building 
because it's a kind of a landmark now. I painted a mural 
on the inside with the theme of the actual shooting of the 
first full-length picture ever made in Hollywood. That 
building has become a kind of a landmark in many ways for 
a lot of people. 

It has a big pool out in front, and I was able to buy 
an early [Paul] Manship sculpture which he did for an estate 
in Delaware. Some of the owners died, and we were able to 
buy the sculpture. We had it in storage for about six or 
eight years before I decided how to use it. I built a 
special fountain on the corner, a great place for hippies 
(in the worst of the hippie days) to wash their feet, but 
finally they outgrew that. But it's a fun building. 

Of course, the original building I like. But there 
are many; they're so different. 
GOODWIN: What is your role in designing a mosaic? 


SHEETS: 1 have designed most of the mosaics myself com- 
pletely, and Sue, in these latter years, has done a few 
mosaics herself. She's marvelous. She does the most 
beautiful work. But I've designed most all of them, which 
means that I make a small sketch, a color sketch in scale, 
an inch to a foot. I then blow it up full size. Sue has 
always helped me tremendously on the cartoons. We work 
together so closely that we don't know where one works and 
the other leaves off, really, we've worked so long together 
Then with my color sketch she goes into the mosaic studio 
every day and checks on the color that the cutters are 
using, so that they can't get it out of value or out of 
color. That's been our routine for twenty-some years be- 
cause we've been making our own mosaics for over twenty 
years. We started out by having them made in Italy. I 
used to go over to Italy and give them the cartoons and 
the color sketches. 
GOODWIN: In Venice? 

SHEETS: In Venice mostly and once or twice in Germany. 
They did very good work, but having our own studio is the 
exciting thing to me, having young people coming along. 
We show them a sketch, then we give them a very finished 
cartoon from which they make the tracings on which they 
actually paste their glass. After they reach a certain 
point, it becomes a very creative process, and there's as 
much quality that comes out of their skill and imagination 


as there is in whatever we have as a basic design. The 
basic design isn't going to change, but the quality of 
the cutting makes for the excitement within it. Of course, 
in the days of Byzantium, when you cut each piece and just 
pushed it into a piece of wet cement, you had a fresh 
quality that was magnificent. You could tilt each glass 
a little and pick up a little different facet of light, 
particularly in the golds. That's a marvelous quality. 
But there's no way that this can be done today, where a 
building is being built for a year or a year and a quarter. 
You wouldn't even get a wall to work on until the last 
matter of weeks, at the most. Some of these mosaics take 
us six or eight months to execute in my studio. So the 
only way to do it is to do it on paper and then have a 
very top craftsman put it up. We have been able over a 
period of time to develop the kind of people to do that 
expertly. It's a very interesting process putting all 
these different kinds of people together. Preparing the 
wall even before we get to it is important as a part of 
the building construction, because you can't apply a mosaic 
to a cement wall without proper preparation of the wall. 
Everything has to be done exactly right: the thickness 
when the finished wall is done must fit the moldings or 
other surfaces that it comes against. It's a very intricate 
problem, but exciting. 
GOODWIN: What are your methods as far as developing a 


design for, say, a mural program? Do you struggle with an 
idea and arrange and rearrange it or do you more or less 
flash on what you want and it's there? 

SHEETS: Well, as you get more experienced you flash a 
little more, but I've never found a time it wasn't to a 
certain degree a struggle. If you don't struggle, you 
aren't growing. I don't try to repeat, although I do some 
things that, I suppose, look like repeats. First of all, I 
try to decide on an area that's going to be exciting, the 
shape of the area, whatever it is, because we just don't do 
rectangles, we do vignettes; we do all sorts of things to 
fit into the building and on the building. Then I discuss 
with myself the best subject matter for that building in 
that particular locale. Now we're working a great deal in 
northern California and central California and down in San 
Diego and all over the state, which gives us a lot of range 
in differences of subject matter. Once you decide on the 
subject matter, then a good deal of it just comes naturally 
out of your head from having been working with certain types 
of subject matter. I generally try to get my basic, central 
forms, whatever they are, placed in an interesting way, and 
then begin to build around them. Or if I have to do research, 
very often I'm very excited about something I find in there. 
Maybe I have a totally new concept of what I really wanted 
the centers to be. 

GOODWIN: Does that mean you go to a library and look up the 
history of an area? 


SHEETS: Oh, yes, you bet, absolutely. But not only that. 
I have a very large library up in my studio up north. 
Because of this purpose, it's essential; it's absolutely 
essential to have material without always having to chase 
it. I buy books continuously. Whenever I have a new job 
that requires something, rather than go to the library, I 
just buy whatever number of books I can get on the subject, 
Sometimes I just read the text; sometimes there are inter- 
esting photographs of the period or something that gives 
you the costume or the mechanics of the life. If it's 
wagons or whatever, you want to be reasonably right. But 
similarly, you don't want to be handicapped by that infor- 
mation. So it's a case of putting the two together, 
creatively and imaginatively, and at the same time not 
doing something that's going to offend somebody who thinks 
he's an authority on the period. But books are essential, 
and research is essential. I've been doing a tremendous 
amount of that recently for San Francisco. I'm doing a 
mural inside that is a series of ideas that depict the 
history of the city, and then on the outside we're doing 
some mosaics. That's all fun, and it seems to come out 

GOODWIN: Are there any other Home Savings buildings we 
should mention as being particularly intriguing? 
SHEETS: Well, I think the one in San Francisco that we're 
just finishing is going to be very intriguing. It's going 


to have this huge stained-glass window that I mentioned. 
It will have these two different historical things: on 
the inside, the painted mural; and then on the outside, 
the mosaics. We hope to have all original paintings from 
San Francisco artists on the inside. I'm in the process 
of getting ready to buy some of those now, so that we'll 
bring as much as we can of the flavor of the city, con- 
temporary and past, into it. 

We're doing a very, very exciting job in San Diego 
right now. We've done one out in the desert at Barstow 
that I think really fits into the community. We did one 
in Victorville many, many years ago that still holds up 
very well for the desert. We've adjusted to the areas. 
We've done a temporary job in Santa Maria that I like very 
much. I think it really fits, and the response of the 
public has been fantastic. We've done them all over. It's 
hard to select one right off the top of my head because 
there's so many. We've done big office buildings in some 
locations where we use the lower floor for Home Savings, 
and of course we've done lots of single buildings. We've 
very often done things like the one in Hollywood, which is 
just a small, two-story building, backed up by a huge sky- 
scraper and surrounded by a very tall building. It sits 
there almost like a little, special plum, and it works. 
GOODWIN: How long are the buildings built to last? 
SHEETS: Well, that's a good question. I think that most 


buildings today are built, at the most, for 100 years. It 
seems a shame to talk and think like that. I think they 
would last longer than that. They probably would last a 
couple of hundred years with a basic concrete building or 
with the steel and brick and other construction. Some of 
them would last a lot longer than that, but I doubt very 
much if the function of the building would stay the same. 


JANUARY 11, 1977 

SHEETS: You asked the question, George, "How long would 
these buildings last?" I think physically they could last 
at least a couple of hundred years, but it's my belief that 
the function will change radically in banking. I think that 
a time will come when there will be so much more done elec- 
tronically than is done today that it won't be necessary to 
deal with a number of people going in and out of a building, 
as we do today. I don't even have the imagination to know 
how far we'll go, but it may all be done over the telephone 
eventually, with special electronic devices. As it is today, 
you can go in any Home Savings branch, even without your 
book, and they can tell you in a matter of about twelve 
seconds exactly how much you have on deposit. You can 
deposit money in San Francisco and have it credited to your 
account in Los T^geles instantly. It's all done by computer, 
as you know. I've seen so much change even in the last ten 
years of the twenty-six or -seven years, where our function 
is changing the nature of what we need. So whereas the 
building might stand, it might not be a savings and loan 
building in fifty or so years. I have no way of knowing. 
But I don't think most commercial buildings are thought of 
as being more than century buildings. 
GOODWIN: Do you have any thoughts, some night when you 


can't sleep, about what's going to happen to all those art 


SHEETS: It is a kind of a strange feeling, when you think 

back on the hundreds and thousands of years that some 

buildings have lasted. But on the other hand, I know that 

probably hundreds of thousands of buildings done in those 

periods disappeared because they weren't important enough 

as works of art, as expressions of a society, for people 

to protect them that long. So I think everybody has to 

sort of take that into consideration, as much as you'd 

like to see some of these things last longer. It's probably 

survival of the fittest in the long run, any way. 

GOODWIN: When we first began discussing your work with Home 

Savings, you said that you were the toughest critic of some 

of the work you've done. You could offer the best criticism. 

SHEETS: Oh, I believe so. I believe so. I think that if 

you aren't, you aren't growing. If you're satisfied that 

everything you've done is all right, it would be a terrible 

thing. I don't ever feel that. I feel that I'm sometimes 

very pleased that I've been able to do as well as I've done, 

but I think that I know my mistakes more quickly than anyone 


GOODWIN: What would you do over if you had the opportunity 

or the need? What would you modify, perhaps? 

SHEETS: Well, I'll give you just an illustration. I did 

a building in Santa Monica [2600 Wilshire Boulevard] which 


is a fairly good-sized building. 1 had a front elevation 
that was turned exactly at a 4 5-degree angle to the corner, 
then two wings that came forward. They didn't go straight 
across, like many of our 45-degree corner buildings have 
done. I'm not objecting to that at all. But instead of 
doing, as I generally do, smaller, vig'netted mosaics in 
the middle of perhaps a dark colored granite or something, 
I did a whole panel. It's one of the biggest ones we've 
done. We actually used the same plans twice. We used it 
in Anaheim as well as in Santa Monica, though we had totally 
different themes in the mosaic in Santa Monica than in the 
one in Anaheim. I would never do it again. It's too much 
mosaic. It's too much in a rectangle. It's like an over- 
sized painting. I wince every time I go by it. Now, 
people like the mosaic, and I don't think it's one of the 
greatest, but it's a satisfactory mosaic. Certainly I 
designed it--so I haven't anybody to blame but myself. 
But I would never do that again, because I think it's far 
too separate from the building, and it should never be 
separate. It should be an integral part. 

I like the mosaic best, for instance, in Pasadena. 
I think we have some perfectly beautiful mosaics. They're 
long, narrow panels. They're vertical, and they are rec- 
tangular. We used some Persian poetry translated into 
English. There are some tall cypress trees with figures 
and some poetry at the bottom. They just seem to be 


beautiful on that building, and they're not overpowering. 
You could pass by and maybe not see them or if you wanted 
to look, they're there. I kind of like that feeling more 
and more all the time and seem less and less concerned 
about the size of things, but more about what they do. 
Now, that's a criticism. 

I think in some cases maybe I'd like to have seen it 
a little taller for its width. Sometimes you're bound by 
the darned rules and regulations that tell you, you can't 
build it over twenty-four feet or twenty-eight or thirty- 
two or something else. You can't always control that, but 
you can make a stab at it. 

In the materials, we've used basically good materials. 
By that 1 mean lasting materials. One of the reasons that 
our buildings hold up well is they don't have to be repainted 
every five, eight, ten years. If they're in fine materials, 
they last; they don't even need cleaning for thirty years. 
For instance, we have a painting contract as a rule in our 
buildings counting everything on the inside. It probably 
wouldn't go over three or four thousand dollars on a half- 
million-dollar building, maybe five thousand or six thousand 
dollars on a million-dollar building, because we use 
permanent, beautiful paneling. We use beautiful floors 
that don't have to be refinished and things like that. Of 
course, carpeting is something else; you have to put that 
down once in a while. But the basic building is made out 


of materials that people respond to. It's also a good 
investment for the people who build the building. They 
save so much money by not having to continuously redo. 

One of the problems you have in a big corporate setup 
like this is that even though you have a fine manager and 
you have people that are responsible for the upkeep of the 
buildings, they don't see the things that need to be done 
as fast as they should see them, if you leave it up to 
them to take care of painting and a lot of this kind of 
thing, even the cleaning. You can whip them by doing it 
the ether way, by doing something where it doesn't make 
much difference if it's cleaned up, dusted, and that kind 
of thing or not. Then you don't have to worry about it. 
That's one reason that I think we've been very successful 
from an economic side. Whereas we spend more money in the 
beginning, sometimes quite a bit more on the materials, 
they're permanently there, and you don't have to fool 
around with them. 

GOODWIN: Let me ask a more personal question that I think 
will be of some curiosity to people who read these tran- 
scripts in the future. Are you paid for each building you 
design or are you paid on a regular salary from Home Savings 
as a regular employee? 

SHEETS: Well, I'm very glad to answer that question. Up 
until the last about two and a half years, I've been paid 
for each individual building. I felt very strongly some 


two or three years ago that I didn't want to continue at 
that pace, partly because of my age and partly because of 
the fact that I want more and more time to paint. So I 
have been able to work out a very satisfactory arrangement 
on an annual stipend that is very adequate, from Home 
Savings. I'm able to have more and more work done after 
I've done the designing than I used to do. I'm hoping, as 
you know, in the next matter of months at the most to be 
as freed of this whole responsibility as I can, because 
I've been planning, desperately, to paint the rest of my 
life. The only way to do this is to really get out of this 
tremendous pressured and exciting world I've lived in. It 
hasn't been pressure except where I created it; no one else 
has created it. I've created my own pressure by being that 
much involved, that much interested. To answer your ques- 
tion, it was always on an individual building basis until 
in the last two or three years, when, at my request, we've 
done it the other way. 

GOODWIN: Let's talk about another aspect of Home Savings 
and your relationship with Howard Ahmanson. That is the 
design of the new County Art Museum. 

SHEETS: I didn't have anything to do with that. I didn't 
have anything to do with the County Art Museum. I did 
have, I'm confident, a lot to do with his desire to want 
to build it. We agreed right at the beginning. Though he 
at first talked very strongly about the idea of my designing 


the museum, I persuaded him very quickly, and he was very 
quick to see, that that could become a political kind of 
thing that we didn't want any part of. I think he wanted 
[William] Pereira because they had been very good friends 
for a long, long time. Pereira was awarded the contract 
by the county, I think quite definitely due to his persua- 
sion, although I'm sure they considered a great number of 
architects. I know that my name was thrown into the pot 
not only by Howard in the beginning, but by other people, 
but I didn't want to be involved in anything that could 
get that political. 

GOODWIN: So you never prepared any plans? 
SHEETS: No. I did a lot of the preliminary designing on 
the new Ahmanson Center [3701 Wilshire Boulevard] , but I 
didn't do that. That was done by Edward Durell Stone. 
There have been quite a few buildings, I think five or six, 
that have been designed by other people than me for Home 
Savings. When they built office buildings, mainly to be 
seen easily from a freeway, and they wanted heighth, 
they've gone to a very good architect who's done a lot 
of the kind of office buildings (sort of general, rental 
office buildings, with a Home Savings on the ground floor) 
an architect named Homolka , who works with me now at a great 
many of my jobs. After I design them, he does the finish 
engineering. He's an excellent architect and has good 
engineers. He is very cooperative, and I enjoy working 


with him. Those two big projects that Howard was involved 
with — well, three counting the [Ahmanson] Theatre r of 
course, which was done by [Welton D.] Beckett, but the 
other two I had never really been thought of as doing, 
and it's better the way it worked out. 

GOODWIN: Let's talk now about some of your other major 
commissions, but for the most part outside of California. 
Is it correct that you won a competition to do the murals 
for the Detroit Public Library? 

SHEETS: Yes. The National Academy [of Design], which is, 
of course, in New York, has over the century and a half of 
its existence, maybe longer, received a tremendous amount 
of money from artists and from architects and people who 
have been members or sometimes just friends of the academy. 
One of the men who gave a great deal of money — I don't know 
the full extent how much it is — was [Edward Austin] Abbey, 
who was a very fine mural painter in the late nineteenth 
and slightly into the twentieth century. He's a good easel 
painter, but he also painted tremendous murals all over the 
East, in Washington and various places. When he died, he 
left a fortune to the academy, which he asked to be devoted 
to mural painting and to be administered like this: that 
the academy was to hold competitions, either open or by 
invitation, and each artist invited to submit a design 
for a particular project would be paid a reasonable amount 
for their efforts. Then the academy jury, made up of 


architects mainly, with, I think, one painter — something 
like that — would commission the winning artists. Then 
the Abbey fund would be used to pay for the entire cost 
as a gift to a community or to an organization they felt 
should logically receive such a gift. I don't know that 
most public organizations know this, but they're eligible 
for a possibility of this kind by applying to the academy. 
I don't know really how many they do a year, but for the 
commission that I won for the Detroit Public Library, I 
think there were nine artists asked to submit designs. 
Each one of us was to be paid a certain amount for his 
sketch, except the artist who won the competition, when 
the sum would apply toward the total job. And that's what 
happened . 

GOODWIN: Against whom did you compete? 

SHEETS: Well, I don't like to say that. There were some 
marvelous people, believe me, excellent artists. All of 
them are very well known, probably far better known in the 
East than I am, and they're nationally very well known, 
too. But it's one of these things, you know. You come 
up with an idea that the committee and the architects 

GOODWIN: What was the nature of the project? 
SHEETS: It's over the new entrance, the new front to the 
Detroit library. They gave no thematic limitations. I 
took the general theme that ideas really flow like a river 


and the library houses the content of all the best ideas 
of time. I'd have to show you the design. I wish I'd 
really thought about this, because I could have brought it 
to discuss it with you. But I used some very large, symbolic 
figures in the center and on two sides, and then I tied these 
together with smaller figures. It was a lot of fun. It is 
a big mosaic. If I remember rightly, it's sixty feet long 
and twenty-two feet high, and it's under a huge portico. 
You can see it from quite a distance, so it has to carry 
well, and at the same time it reads well when you get up 
close. There's a lot of interesting detail in it. It's 
very strong. 

We executed it here, and I think I told you that we can 
be so much more creative doing it here in our own studio 
because that's where the juices flow. You send designs to 
Europe or for someone else to execute, and it's apt to be 
deadly in a static reproduction of a sketch. This was one 
of the first really big, big commissions for a mosaic that 
we executed here. We went back and put it up ourselves. 
GOODWIN: How long were you involved with that project? 
SHEETS: About a year. It was a big one, and there were 
so many big, figurative problems in it. The main figures 
were about twelve feet high. It's interesting: when you 
move up in scale from six feet to twelve feet, the problems 
multiply rather than diminish. To have the simplicity and 
the powerful form and expressive symbols, you can't fool 


anybody. You've just got to really work at it, and I had 
a great deal of pleasure out of that job. 
GOODWIN: It came out to your satisfaction? 

SHEETS: Yes, I wouldn't say that I was unhappy about that 
job at all. I think it came out very well. 
GOODWIN: I'd like to see it. 
SHEETS: Well, I hope you can. 

GOODWIN: Right. Shortly afterwards you did another commis- 
sion, for the Notre Dame University Library. 
SHEETS: Well, that was quite an experience. I had done a 
very large mural in the new diagnostic center of the Mayo 
Clinic back at Rochester, Minnesota. I'd worked with a 
group of architects called Ellerbe and Associates in 
Minneapolis. These architects were doing tremendous planning 
all over the world. They built some of the greatest hospitals 
and some of the greatest huge office buildings and industrial 
plants. Among other things, they were master-planning and 
rebuilding the whole Notre Dame campus. This campus was 
really changing its axis. On one end of this axis, they 
had a huge library with a big tower, and the architects' 
original conception showed a mural going up the face of 
this tower. They presented it to Notre Dame, and it was 
basically approved. Then they were asked to submit to 
Notre Dame University names of artists who might be able 
to do a decoration in a material that would withstand the 
real tests of time and weather. 


Well, they asked me first to send material back, 
which I did. They submitted my name along with a dozen 
others to the university, mostly of people who had worked 
on the Mayo Clinic with them. I think there were twenty- 
five artists involved in the Mayo Clinic; it's quite a 
library of mural painting. Every floor has a special work, 
done by artists from England and the United States and 
France and, I believe, one from Mexico. So they submitted 
some dozen names to the University of Notre Dame. 

Well, after looking at all the photographs they sub- 
mitted, they selected me as the potential designer. I went 
back to the architects' office in Minnesota and spent some 
time discussing what material we might use to do this mural, 
because it was a huge affair. It was to be 134 feet high 
and 68 feet wide. That in itself was the biggest chunk of 
material I've ever been involved with. 

GOODWIN: In other words, it covered the entire facade of 
the building? 

SHEETS: It covered the central part of the tower. There 
is a heavy, massive stone edge of the tower, probably fif- 
teen feet wide on either side of the mural. But the mural 
goes straight up from over the entrance door, right up 
almost to the top of the tower, and that's a very large 
space . 

The problem was what to use. We discussed mosaic, and 
we talked about how the Mexicans had done it in Mexico City 


at the University of Mexico. We discussed all sorts of 
techniques of mosaic. 

One of the engineers was very adamant. He said, 
"Granite is the only thing that I think we should recommend, 
because of the tremendous change of heat and cold in South 
Bend, Indiana. I don't know anything about granite, whether 
you could get the kind of colors you'd need or whether you 
could get the kind of feeling you want out of granite, but 
it should definitely be done in granite." He was a very 
strong character, and he certainly knew what he was talking 
about. His arguments were right about why it would stand 
up for thousands of years, literally, if it was to stay 
there that long. So he influenced all of us to the point 
that we decided, well, let's find out about it. 

I was told about the granite society — it has a funny 
name which I don't remember. I wrote to them and said, 
"How many colors of natural granite are there?" They wrote 
back, "Twenty-seven." Well, I knew better than that. I 
just knew that that was not enough. I knew also that even 
if we had to deal with twenty-seven, that, limited though 
it might be, by getting different textures, which will last 
forever on the granite — one polished, one what they call 
sand finish, and another that they called natural cleavage — 
that we could get three different colors and three different 
values out of each of the separate basic colors. But I 
wasn't satisfied that that was enough. In about a year 


and a half, long after I'd started the job, I found 143 
colors, which is some difference. 
GOODWIN: All around the world? 

SHEETS: All around the world. I had friends in Europe and 
brokers all over who handled marbles and whatnot whom I'd 
been buying things from, and everybody made a game out of 
it. They started searching, and when the samples came in, 
I couldn't believe it. 

Well, I went down to Notre Dame, after meeting the 
architects on that first trip, and met Father [Theodore M.] 
Hesburgh and his marvelous assistant, Father [Edmund P.] 
Joyce. I discussed with them the whole idea of this project. 
They were fascinating. First, Father Hesburgh really shocked 
me by saying, when I asked them what they had in mind in the 
way of subject matter, "Millard, that's up to you. We're 
not going in any way to interfere." Well, I said, "My 
goodness, this is a huge university, and it's a Catholic 
university. I should think you'd be deeply concerned with 
the kind of subject matter." "No, we have to depend upon 
you, because we've selected you. That's your responsibility." 
Well, I said, "Haven't you even a little glimmer of a 
suggestion or an idea?" And they said no. They said, "As 
a matter of fact, if you want to do something abstract, 
that's up to you. If you want to do something that's repre- 
sentational, that's up to you. If you want to do something 
religious, that's up to you. But we want your interpretation." 


Well, it was a little bit like my Ahmanson experience, 
except this was so definitely one thing that it really gave 
me pause to think. We discussed, quite at length, the idea 
of granite, and we had a marvelous day really, the three of 
us together, talking about this whole thing. We had lunch, 
after we'd had a couple of nice martinis, and after lunch 
Father Hesburgh suddenly said, "Well, Millard, it's all 
set. We're going to go, is that right?" I was rather 
startled, and I looked over and I said, "Well, just a 
minute. I'm honored that you're pleased that I'm going to 
do it, that you want me to do it, but we haven't discussed 
any of the really down-to-earth problems. For instance, 
how much is such a thing going to cost in granite? It's 
so wild to consider the combination of the hardness and 
the difficulty of using this material, the weight of it in 
the building, I have no idea right off the top of my head 
to give you an answer. I'm too old to spend a year designing 
something that you can't afford to put up, because I can't 
waste a year, even though I'm terribly excited about the 
project. " 

"Well," he said, "give me just a wild, way outside 
kind of a figure, what you think it would cost to execute 
this thing." I said, "Well, not counting my part in it at 
all, but just the actual mechanics and the unbelievable 
engineering and everything else that is involved, it could 
run $350,000. I don't know — I'm just guessing." And of 


course we're talking about almost fifteen years ago, when 
money was a little different than it is now. He said, "All 
right, now we've passed that hurdle." I said, "What do you 
mean, we've passed that hurdle?" He said, "That's my re- - 
sponsibility, I'll get the money — I don't care what it costs. 
Now, about your fee?" I said, "Well, that's not going to be 
too difficult. I can give you some kind of a fee," and I 
threw out kind of a loose figure. I wasn't very smart — it 
was a little low, quite a little low, but anyway I suggested 
it. He said, "Now we've passed that hurdle. Let's go. You 
go back to California and you do your research and come up 
with your idea, or ideas if you want to submit a couple of 
ideas; then let me know, and come back, and we'll look at 
them, and we'll present them to the senate." They have an 
interesting group there: it would be like the head profes- 
sors of the university that form the senate. He said, 
"Now, they're not going to be the ones that are going to 
be critics. We want to get them excited about it. If 
they have some suggestions and so forth, we'll be happy 
to have that, but that's all there'll be to that." 

"Well," I said, "now there's one other thing I'd like 
to discuss with you before I start home and get into this 
thing. I am not a Roman Catholic. I have no prejudice 
whatsoever toward any religion or any faith or any race, 
but I'm not a Roman Catholic, and on top of that I've just 
finished a huge Scottish Rite cathedral, a Masonic temple. 


in Los Angeles. I just don't want to go on under any false 
colors. You know, I'm not a Mason, and I'm not a Catholic. 
Now, if these things don't interfere, that's fine." Father 
Hesburgh laughed — he just laughed out loud — and he said, 
"Well, you know, the Masons and the Catholics used to fight 
a little but, what the hell. I did a lot of research on you, 
I was in California about four months ago doing a Catholic 
motion picture, and while I was out there I did a lot of 
research on you, and I knew you were building that thing. 
There's just one promise that I want you to make: that is, 
that some day, in my street clothes, you'll take me through 
it. [laughter]" I'm delighted — and forget it. I want to 
tell you something: Even if I have to get an infidel, I'm 
going to get who I want to do this job. And you're my 

So we became very, very good friends, as I did par- 
ticularly with Father Joyce. Oh, what a pair of guys. And 
the whole staff was marvelous. I came back and I made three 
different sketches, different ideas, different scale. I 
took them back, and they all just landed on the one that 
was similar to the one we finally did. It was my choice, 

GOODWIN: What were your three ideas? 

SHEETS: Well, one idea was really based upon something I 
read. They gave me a book on Notre Dame, and one of the 
professors had written a very unusual concept of the Sermon 


on the Mount. I thought of a very dynamic, full-length 
Christ, with a very striking pose, standing on a rock with 
the multitude below. It could have been an interesting 
mural--! really think it could have been. It would have 
been more representational than the one we finally did. 
But I think it could have been interesting. It might have 
been a lot more difficult to do in granite, although I 
think I could have done it. 

The second one was a processional idea, which was 
simply a movement of figures up against the whole tower. 
I had suggested there the figure of Christ with his arms 
in the preaching position, the disciples' heads cutting 
across his chest, and then his body disappearing down into 
the processional, as an idea. That was the one that they 
finally chose. 

The third one was an interesting one. It wasn't a 
tree, but it was sort of like a tree shape, with limblike 
forms. I had groups of scholars on these different limbs. 
It was architecturally quite interesting, but I think it 
was static as compared to the one we finally did. 

Anyway, we had a great meeting, and they all said that 
they really thought this one was the one that seemed to 
express the whole thing, as far as they were concerned. 
I think they were delighted that I used the figure of 
Christ with the disciples. Then I had a processional of 
figures that are not meant really to represent individual 


scholars, but by the costumes to more or less suggest 
something of the ancients and coming up through the ages. 
I don't know whether you've seen it, but it has a flow of 
figures . 

GOODWIN: Just a small magazine reproduction. 
SHEETS: That's the one also that the architects liked. 
I went both to Notre Dame first, and then I went on back 
to the architects. They were very excited about that one. 
So then I came back and developed a very much more complete 
and better-thought-out design, twice the scale, I think. 
The second painting 1 made was probably five feet high, 
something like that. I took it back, and it was approved. 

Of course I kept in mind while I was making this 
sketch what I might, within reason, be able to get in the 
way of granite. I'd already begun to get a lot of the 
samples. But then the problem was to really start tying 
these things down, and it took about a year to do all the 
preliminary work. When you get on this scale, you just 
can't believe the complications. 

First of all, my studio was only fifty feet wide and 
twenty-five feet high on the long wall, and that little 
extra eighteen feet in the sixty-eight foot width posed a 
miserable problem because every time I drew it I had to 
keep moving the paper, rolling up one end or the other, 
plus the fact that I could only mount two sections, ten 
feet high each, at a time. In order to get a cartoon 


that was going to be absolutely accurate, because at no 
time would I ever see the whole thing — no way to see the 
whole thing — I had to rent the Pan Pacific Auditoriiom. I 
glued together, I guess, the largest piece of paper that's 
been put together around here in a long time. On the floor 
of the Pan Pacific Auditorium, we put paper together in 
ten-foot-wide sheets. We had enough to make it 134 feet 
high and 68 feet wide. Then, with just the same kind of 
an instrument that a surveyor uses, we set up the tripod 
and set perfect four-square corners. Then we took ten- 
foot modules, vertically and horizontally, and used our 
snap lines to make a perfect grid of ten-foot squares all 
over the entire thing. Then we went over that with pencil 
so it would never get erased. It had to be that accurate. 
You just couldn't play around with quarters of inches. 
Then I took by measurement all of the basic lines in my 
design, and there were a lot of very powerful diagonal 
lines as well as cross lines and vertical lines. Every- 
thing we could do, we did by accurate measurement. We 
laid all those lines in on the floor of this big Pan Pacific 
Auditorium, and the cartoon then was basically established. 
The square lines and all the main points were very well 

Then I took the cartoon all apart and cut it into 
horizontal strips ten feet high. These strips were all 
numbered. There were some fourteen or fifteen strips. 


about 134 feet with extra space for notation and whatnot. 
We brought them back to the studio, and then I had photo- 
graphs made of my sketch. I had slides made for every 
ten-foot square in the entire thing so that I could project 
each ten-foot strip on the grid exactly right. All I had 
to do was get it dead center on the ten feet, horizontally 
and vertically, and know that I had no distortion. It made 
a simple problem of getting a very accurate drawing then on 
a design that I never would see as one piece. I keep 
pointing this out because, as the process goes forward, 
you can see the complexity of all this. 

When that was finished, I had all these small slabs of 
granite finished in the different textures that I wanted, 
arranged on a huge panel that had two tilted sides and 
rolled around on wheels. By having all these things in 
sequence — and I had a total of almost 200 colors, counting 
the different textures — I could take these colors and lay 
them against a still larger sketch, which was not so much 
in detail but was in accurate color. We took the original 
sketch and we took the granites, and we matched those 
granites as best we could and pulled it together that way. 

Then we worked back the other way. We'd take the 
granites, after the sketch was completed and put up where 
we could work with it regularly without having to unroll 
it or anything, and we'd just take a piece of granite and 
hold it up to where it looked right. Then we'd take that 


granite, and we'd carry that up on the scaffold with us. 
We had one row across at the top and one row underneath 
it. We went up to the top, and starting with each color, 
we matched it and even gave it some of the same texture 
as the granite, so it wouldn't look just like a slick 
thing. We painted every single area of this huge design. 
Of course, it had to be stylized to the point that you 
couldn't carry a color over and then spit on it and get 
it soft or darker or lighter. You had to have it abso- 
lutely right, color against color. There's no deviation — 
that's it. 

We painted the top strip and the strip underneath it, 
and then we looked at that longingly and finally said, 
"Well, here we go." We took the top strip down, shipped 
it back to Cold Spring, Minnesota, and moved the bottom 
strip up to where the top one was and put the next one 
under it and painted that one. Strip by strip, we always 
had the one that was above it to match it to, but we had 
to do the whole thing without seeing it again. No, that's 
not true. We got it all painted, and by this time the 
strips were all back there, and the granite men had been 
making their analysis of areas: so much cubage for this, 
so much cubage for that. They got all their amounts of 
granites as these strips came back. They were all numbered 
so they knew the exact pieces of granite and everything 
else. They then started bringing granite from all over 
the world . 


Well, when I got through with the bottom panel, I 
went back to Cold Spring, Minnesota, and we pasted the 
whole cartoon again, as we had done the first time, on 
the floor of a big gymnasium we rented. By climbing up 
on the grid above it, looking down — though I couldn't get 
a really good view way up there as I was only about oh, 
thirty-five, forty feet up — I could look down and get a 
fairly good sense of the whole design, and I knew it was 
working. Then I had Sue Hertel come up, and we spent 
three days there, where I did nothing but stand up on 
the grid, and she moved pieces of granite around on top 
of the cartoon to see if I could locate them against the 
color of the cartoon. If I couldn't locate them, then it 
was a success. With down light, there were no shadows. 

After we'd done all of that, then piece by piece, 
we cut it up again, and the granite craftsmen started 
the actual production, which took two years. I used to 
commute up there about every four weeks, the year around, 
winter, summer, and we gradually got the project going. 
GOODWIN: How big were the pieces, the individual tiles? 
SHEETS: Well, they varied enormously. They're not tile— 
they're solid granite. I'll put it this way: we had to 
end up always with a piece of granite six inches thick, 
two inches thick attached to four inches of concrete 
behind the granite. The granite was formed into large 
units approximately 6x8 feet, irregular in shape, in 


order to follow contours of figures in the design. Each 

color and value change was cut out of a separate piece 

of granite, whether two inches thick or the full six inches 


The architects and engineers and I spent several 
months determining the best method of attaching the granite 
to the building. It was agreed by our collaboration that 
if the granite was backed directly by concrete, that in 
approximately sixty years the difference in expansion and 
contraction between granite and concrete would separate 
the bond. Due to the extreme changes in the weather in 
Indiana, we decided we would not cast the granite on the 
concrete. The engineers told us to imbed stainless steel 
pins in the back of each piece of granite. Holes were 
drilled slightly larger than the pins, and the pins were 
then dry-packed into the granite. Depending upon the size 
of each piece of granite, the number of pins in each piece 
varied from two to seventy-five < 

After each granite segment had the pins installed, 
the granite was placed face down upon a level surface and 
the adjoining granite was placed against the pieces that 
fitted like a jigsaw puzzle to produce the overall design. 
These segments were then covered on the back side by a 
plastic blanket one-quarter of an inch thick. The pins 
were forced through the plastic, so the plastic was tightly 
placed against the granite. A metal edge six inches thick 


was then shaped around each area that I have outlined as 
being approximately six feet by eight feet. Concrete was 
then poured to the level of the six-inch border and allowed 
to cure. In the detail of Christ's head, that was five feet 
high, the individual pieces varied from twelve inches to 
several square feet. In Christ's head there were 123 pieces 
carefully cut to shape, and the surrounding shapes fitted 
perfectly to each shape. Each of the units 6x8 feet 
irregular in shape were fitted together, numbered, and 
made ready for shipping from Cold Spring, Minnesota, to 
South Bend, Indiana. 

There were many engineering details I have not des- 
cribed to avoid sheer action with pins and to assure a 
perfect flat surface in the casings, but suffice to say 
the process was correct. The only maintenance on the 
mural will be grouting between the large units every 
twenty years comparable to the maintenance of all granite 
buildings in severe weather. There will be no change in 
color or value in centuries if the building survives. 

Well, finally, when they had about thirty or forty 
feet of the full width of the stone together, I was really 
kind of scared. I said to myself and then to them, "How 
do we know this thing is going to carry a half a mile? I 
know my sketch, but I'd love to see a finished section of 
the stone." That kind of material was so heavy that I 
rarely saw two sections of it together — I mean two 8x8 


or 6 X 6 pieces. They were scattered all over, and there 
was no way to move them. I could only look at a piece of 
a head here and a piece of a nose there. I'll tell you, 
it was a hell of a problem to visualize completely the 
total effect of the mural. So finally I persuaded them 
to rent some bleachers, and we put them down below a water 
tower. And with a 4 5-degree angle, we put heavy, very 
heavy plywood on the bleachers, and then we laid these 
great .... 


JANUARY 13, 1977 

GOODWIN: We're continuing a discussion of the preparation 
of the library mural at the University of Notre Dame which 
was finished in 1963. We're just at the point where Mr. 
Sheets is in Minnesota, and he's trying to get an idea of 
what the effect of the full mural will be once it's in 
place. He hasn't had the opportunity yet to see it that 
way. I think that's about right. 

SHEETS: That's correct, George. I think there are two 
points to make in picking up where we left off: first, 
the necessity of trying to see how well the pieces worked 
together, because I'd never seen pieces larger than 6 feet 
X 6 or 7 feet. I had not seen even a full head put to- 
gether, except in a few instances. I also wanted to see 
how it would carry, how the style we were using and the 
values we were using would carry — knowing that it would 
have to carry for some half-mile effectively—and at the 
same time be interesting and exciting when you came up 
close to it. So for this reason we, as I told you, rented 
the bleachers, put heavy plywood against the seats at a 
45-degree angle and had large sections of the mural set up 
against them. At this point, I'm about to climb up a water 
tower some ninety feet high. It's in the winter, and there's 
a pretty good wind blowing. From the ground it looked like 


a very simple climb because the ladder was not too vertical. 
It had a slight tilt to it, and it had railings, and it went 
up to a deck. I hadn't taken the trouble to walk around to 
the other side of the tower to see that the ladder changed 
then to just iron rungs, straight up, for the balance of the 
ninety feet, some seventy feet. Well, at the last minute. 
Father Joyce, who is the assistant to the president at Notre 
Dame, said, "I'm going with you." I said, "Well, Father, 
you can't go in that beautiful robe and your tricornered 
hat. You couldn't do it." He said, "Yes, I'm going to do 
it." Finally I persuaded him to leave his hat, and we 
started up. I knew he was with me all the way because 
every time I stopped for a little bit of breath I'd feel 
his hand hit my foot. I guess his being there kept me 
going up, because it was a pretty darned difficult climb. 
It was so cold and my hands felt so numb that I didn't know 
for sure I could even hang onto the darn rungs. But we got 
to the top, and then we were shocked, because when we 
reached the top it was not flat; it was pyramid-shaped. 
It went up to a center point. It was metal, and there 
wasn't too much to hang onto. There were two or three 
little rungs as you went up, two or three little ones, 
and that was all. 

Well, we were shocked when we got to the very top of 
the peak to see that we were still so far back from the 
edge of the tower that we couldn't look down on the mural. 


so we had to descend on the other side, really on our 
bellies, sliding down slowly toward the edge and hanging 
our heads over the edge, which I didn't enjoy a bit. I've 
never been bothered terribly by high places , but I certainly 
wasn't pleased with the experience. Father Joyce, who cer- 
tainly was a gutsy man, as far as I'm concerned, completely 
messed up the beautiful costume that he wore. It was 
completely smeared with dirt and soot from that roof. Well, 
we were overjoyed in spite of the fact that we were dirty 
and cold, because we could tell that the mural was going 
to carry. It was of immeasurable help to see it from that 
distance. On reflection, of course, what we should have 
done was rent a helicopter, which would have been a very 
simple matter to climb up to any height. But we didn't 
think of that, and I don't know that there was a helicopter 
nearby, but in any case, we made it. 

Then coming back was worse than going up, but as you 
can see, we made it, although I think that descent was one 
of the toughest jobs that I ever did, because looking down 
and then having to back up over that point again and slide 
down the other side was more than I would like to do every 

Well, that satisfied me at least to the point that I 
felt that the mural was going to carry. With the value 
range that I had worked out, I felt that the overall 
design would work. 


Over the year or year and a half that it took to 
complete the fabrication, I made trips about every month 
and checked on details. Once the granite cutters under- 
stood the problem thoroughly, they were magnificent in the 
way they worked things out. It was a strange circumstance 
that the entire town of Cold Spring, Minnesota, is made up 
of Roman Catholic people. The dedication that those people 
had toward this job, which they insisted on calling the 
Eighth Wonder of the World, because of its size and the 
fact that they'd never had contact with anything like this, 
produced a dedication that was tremendous. It probably was 
something akin to the spirit that some of the cities that 
built great cathedrals might have felt, although there it 
would go on for 100 years or more. I think the whole city 
was aroused, and it's my understanding that most of the 
people in the city came down to the dedication at Notre 
Dame when it took place. But the interesting thing was 
that inch by inch, as this whole job was finished, there 
wasn't a single accident during the entire project; not 
one piece was broken. After the sections were once put 
together, it was extraordinary that they could be stored. 
I don't know off the top of my head what 68 x 134 is in 
square footage. 

GOODWIN: I think it was something like 9,000 square feet. 
SHEETS: It's about 9,000 square feet, and just 9,000 square 
feet strung out — even a lot of it outdoors in the winter 


because of the fact that there wasn't enough room inside 
the buildings — made it look like an enormous graveyard, 
really, with all these pieces of granite all over the 
place. It was a very exciting experience. 

When we loaded the sections to take them to Notre Dame, 
it was still wintertime. Everyone was somewhat concerned 
about it, although there was a cover over the outside and 
elevators that went up the face of the big tower. It was 
still minus-zero and only occasionally slightly above-zero 
weather. These trucks had to be loaded with two major 
pieces, one on either side tilted together at the top, 
much as they load heavy glass or big glass panels. The 
trucks proceeded from Cold Spring, Minnesota, some 67 
miles, I think it was, down to South Bend, Indiana, through 
those icy roads. They arrived at the job exactly at a cer- 
tain time that was preplanned. The elevator took them 
right off of the truck bed, and lifted them up to their 
place, starting from the bottom. They were welded imme- 
diately to the structural iron that protruded from the 
tower, welded directly to the building piece by piece. 

So it meant that just as an army has to plan its 
movements, this whole operation had to be planned. A 
truck left at a certain hour to arrive at a certain hour, 
in order to keep the work going smoothly forward. They 
would then take each section right off the truck and up 
to its place. The right amount of time was planned. 


between trucks, of course, for the welding, and this 
schedule followed right up the building. It was a con- 
tinuous process, twenty-four hours a day, in the neigh- 
borhood of seven or eight weeks in that final operation. 
Of course, it was all done under cover. You couldn't see 
a thing. No one could tell what the mural was about. 
GOODWIN: Why was it done under cover? 

SHEETS: Oh, because of the freezing weather. They had 
the entire elevator covered with a heavy plastic and tar 
paper covering, so they could heat it. Otherwise, the 
men couldn't even have worked on the shaft. 
GOODWIN: It wasn't for the purpose of surprise? 
SHEETS: No, it was not. It was just there was no other 
way to do it. Then they did plan a surprise. They planned 
to unveil it before they took the elevator out. This was 
an exterior elevator, of course that was removed piece by 
piece as it came down with all of the scaffolding. As 
that came down, they dropped a huge black plastic sheet 
from the top and brought it down the full length. They 
had worked out a very clever device for unveiling this, 
having this great plastic sheet come down on rings on some 
heavy cables at the right moment. I was told all about 
the mechanics of this thing, and I was invited to come 
to the opening . 

It was at the opening when they had a formal dedica- 
tion, of course, plus a ceremony at which they gave the 


doctorate degrees for Notre Dame that year. They awarded 
me a doctorate degree, an LLD honorary degree. But I was 
excited about the idea of this thing being unfurled and 
at the same time about half-scared as no one had ever seen 

This is the way we thought it was to be when we started 
from California, my wife and I, to go back for the unveiling. 
We met Mr. [Warren T.] Mosman (who represented the architects 
in helping put this whole idea together) and his wife in 
Chicago, and then we flew from there to South Bend together. 
As we got out of the airplane, from California to Chicago, 
I saw the Chicago Tribune lying around on various sales 
shelves , and on the front page was my huge mural in full 
color. [laughter] I thought, "How in the world could 
they ever have taken such a picture? They must have put 
it together from the original sketch." Until I looked a 
second time and realized that it was actually the building. 
What had happened was that they had a small twister the day 
before the dedication, and the twister had simply taken the 
tarpaulin that covered it off into space, and they never 
even found pieces of it. So it was unveiled unceremoniously 
the day before by the elements. It made it perhaps less 
dramatic, but I felt better having looked at that photo- 
graph before we got to South Bend, to realize that it did 
read well, and it was a very exciting experience. 
GOODWIN: What kind of feeling did you have, or do you 


still have, about that work? 

SHEETS: I feel very good about it. I feel good about it 
because I know that it isn't going to change. It certainly 
isn't going to get any better, but it can't get any worse 
because, being in granite, it's a timeless material. There 
is just nothing that will bother it. I told you how compli- 
cated it was the way the engineers and we worked it out so 
that there never could be any separation from the concrete 
and the building. The only thing that will have to be done, 
probably every twenty years, is to grout between those major 
stones. But that has to be done in any building in the 
East, whether it's in New York or South Bend or Chicago. 
The elements require a regrouting about every twenty years 
in a granite building. The granite itself, however, will 
never be in any way discolored. It's so hard and so dense 
that whatever stain would come on it would be normally 
washed off by the winter rain and by the wind and whatnot. 

I feel very good about it because I think it does 
actually work as a mural in relation to the architecture. 
One of the most interesting ways to approach it is from 
the ground on the main axis. There's a long reflection 
pool, several hundred feet long, that extends almost to 
the entrance door itself, probably 100 feet short. From 
a long distance away, you get a very interesting play of 
the reflection of the mural in the pool . The pool seems 
to give it an extra dimension. 


But the color is what I think is most exciting. I 
think it would be impossible to make bad color relation- 
ships with the natural granites. My feeling is that the 
color is very close to the frescoes of Piero della 
Francesca in the actual color harmony. You feel it in 
any earthen problem of course, but Piero della Francesca 
certainly did get some beautiful nuances of color that 
many other fresco painters did not get to the same degree. 
GOODWIN: Is that something you sought to achieve? 
SHEETS: Well, to a degree I certainly wasn't conscious, 
I think, of any particular artist, but I wanted as rich, 
warm, cool feeling as I could get, which I think he had 
to such a brilliant degree. He used intense color against 
muted colors, greyed colors, and greys and whites, which 
made the few colors that he used very intense and more 
striking than if he'd had a great deal of color throughout. 
Well, in this mural the big problem was not getting the 
color harmony; it was getting values that would be abso- 
lutely right and carry. Sometimes the value that you 
wanted to use was so close that you wavered a long time 
for fear that it might not really read. I found that the 
absoluteness of each color made it a very demanding 
decision. At the same time, it made it more telling than 
if you were working in paint or some medium where you 
could move things around a little bit. It had a kind of 
striking simplicity, much as you get in graphic work today. 


I think one of the reasons graphic exhibitions are 
more interesting than many painting exhibitions is that 
graphics — just the very discipline of the positive use of 
color in a specific way, one against the other — is more 
striking than when a painter can fool around, scumble 
around a little bit more. Obviously one can't do always 
the same thing in one medium or another. But I think this 
material had the same effect. In a mosaic, you can get 
almost any juxtaposition of color by vibrating the dif- 
ferent colors together. In this instance, you make a 
final selection, and it is so final, there's no way you 
can change it. 

I really feel very pleased with it. I think that the 
people who go there feel something very unusual. It's not 
just the size. I think the size, of course, is bound to 
be impressive, if it isn't a weak thing. 
GOODWIN: Do you feel it has a spiritual impact? 
SHEETS: I do. I think it has a definite lift. As you 
know, I'm sure, there's a kind of irony about it. The 
football stadium is very important at South Bend, and this 
mural is on a direct axis with it. If you look from one 
end of the football field down across the scoreboard, what 
you see above the scoreboard is the very upper part of the 
Christ with arms extended. So the Notre Dame students 
immediately dubbed it "Touchdown Christ." They do that 
in a kind of a loving way, and they felt they really had 


something, because they didn't lose a game for the first 
three and a half years in the coliseum, [laughter] but 
they finally found that they were not invincible. It was 
proven they were not. 

But it's a mural that I'm very proud of, not just 
because of the size, partly because it was a very difficult 
problem in a new material that nobody had ever done anything 
with before, partly the fact that we could solve it and make 
it work and at the same time make it highly decorative, and 
also because I think it does give you a sense of the meaning 
of the teacher, the scholar, which of course symbolizes the 

GOODWIN: What did it eventually cost? 

SHEETS: Well, that's interesting. I think I told you 
earlier when I mentioned what I thought it might cost 
Father Hesburgh said, "Well, now we've passed that point." 
GOODWIN: Right. 

SHEETS: Well, an interesting thing happened, and I was so 
excited when it happened. They reproduced a photograph of 
my sketch in the alumni magazine, and they asked the alumni 
to contribute toward this mural. In the first six weeks, 
they had somewhere in the neighborhood of sixty or seventy 
thousand dollars that had come in. While I was in conver- 
sation with Father Hesburgh one day on the telephone, he 
said that things were going beautifully, that a certain 
great friend of the college, a graduate from there, a 


lawyer in Chicago, had given the first check, which was 
for $40,000. The other checks had come in ranging any- 
where from $10 to $200 or $300 or $400 and two or three 
for $1,000. They were coming in every day. He said, 
"We just have no question about it." Well, about two 
weeks after that, this same gentleman from Chicago called 
and said, "Father Hesburgh, how much have we got now? How 
are we doing?" He said, "Well, we're well over the $100,000 
mark." He said, "Would it be a bad thing. Father Hesburgh, 
if you either returned the money or could get permission 
to use it for something else if I gave the whole thing?" 
Father Hesburgh said he was certain he could work it out, 
and this one man gave the entire mural. 
GOODWIN: Do you remember who that was? 

SHEETS: It was Mark Egan, from Chicago. I've corresponded 
with him, and he came to the dedication. He was so excited 
about the whole thing that I thought he was going to faint. 
He was probably in his middle or early fifties and a 
charming man. There's a very nice bronze tablet there 
that tells about his gift. But the final mural, you asked 
what it finally cost. Including my fee, we actually did 
this job for just slightly over a quarter of a million 
dollars . 

GOODWIN: That was much less than your original guess. 
SHEETS: It was better than $150,000 less than I thought. 
I had to make a wild guess because there was no way of 


knowing. Of course, the reason for that is surely the 
fact that being executed up at Cold Spring, and due to 
the fact that these people were all members of the Roman 
Catholic church, and the fact that the people that owned 
the quarries were also Catholic, I think that they must 
have given a great deal of themselves in addition and 
beyond whatever they were paid. I know that Saturdays, 
Sundays, and holidays meant nothing to those people. 
They worked right straight through. There was so much 
experimental work that had to be done on this. We had 
to find ways to do it right. To carve the lines where 
we had used, of necessity, certain lines in the design, 
and to know exactly what would be absolutely permanent 
with which to fill those lines, for, perhaps, a soft 
grey line was something that we had to do a great deal 
of experimenting with. I just marvel at the way they 
cut, the precision with which they cut the details. I 
think in the Christ's face there were something like 200 
pieces or perhaps more. I've forgotten. I get mixed up 
on it. I think it's about 200 and some separate pieces 
in the head, although it's not a complex head. It's very 
simple, and it reads extremely well. I don't know whether 
you've seen a good reproduction of it, but it reads very 
well. To get expression into that and to get it so that 
it doesn't look like you're just trying to paint, but to 
do it with the material, as you see in some of the great 


early mosaics and that kind of thing, I think they did an 
exquisite job. They really knew that when I drew a line 
with a pencil that I didn't want it to waver around, be- 
cause in this thing you couldn't waver. The small hands 
were three feet long, and you've got to get your forms to 
the point to where you can not only handle them in the 
material but where they will have some sensitivity and 
some feeling — feet, hands, heads, and then the gesture 
of bodies, and the whole thing. I think they did an 
extraordinary job. 

GOODWIN: Do you remember how many figures there are? 
SHEETS: Oh, goodness, just off the top of my head, I 
would have to say forty or forty-five or fifty figures 
in various kinds of costumes, just to symbolize something 
in the way of passing of time without trying to get literal 
or detailed about it. There's a sense of the classical and 
then coming on through. It's something that doesn't seem 
to mystify anyone. At the same time I don't think anyone 
has tried to tie it down into some very narrow meaning. 

One of the most interesting things that happened was 
that I found, as I told you, 143 colors instead of only 27. 
There was one color that I really felt hopeless about. I 
didn't expect granite to look like gold, but I wanted 
something in the gamut of all the other colors that would 
have kind of gold appearance. Everywhere I went, I was 
told by everyone this is impossible to find. I'd been in 


Europe on another matter, and I'd pushed this gold thing 
as far as I knew how to push it with friends of mine, 
brokers in marbles and granites and so on. I hadn't been 
home more than about six weeks when I received a little 
package in the mail. It was a beautiful piece of gold 
granite — I couldn't believe it — and a letter with it 
stating this had come from Brazil. The man knew nothing 
about the present whereabouts of the quarry, because he 
hadn't heard of this quarry. Well, I sent cables to South 
America and found out that this quarry was there, all 
right, but it had not been worked for over twenty-five 
years. I was told there was no way we could get any 
material out of it. Not being satisfied, I sent more 
cables and asked a broker in South America to see if, by 
any chance, they could locate a block of this material 
somewhere that hadn't been chopped up — maybe not a per- 
fect block, but to see if they could fine one. In three 
months I had a cable that they had found a block, a very 
beautiful big block. We had it shipped to Cold Spring, 
Minnesota, and it's hard to believe this, but by cutting 
it the inch-and-a-half thickness, I think it was, which 
was the finest we used, we came out with about four square 
feet left, more than we actually needed, in the various 
places that I've used this gold. I mean, it's an uncanny 
kind of story. 
GOODWIN: Was it in any way a religious experience for 


you, having to do this mural? 

SHEETS: I think so. I've always had a deep sense of some- 
thing much bigger than life itself, something that hangs 
this whole thing together. I felt that in the spirit of 
trying to express a library, and at the same time some of 
the feeling that these people have, particularly in their 
Catholic religion, that it was a matter of real dedication. 
I think everybody involved couldn't help feeling that way. 
GOODWIN: Has Notre Dame since had any large-scale art 
work added to the campus? 

SHEETS: Not that I know of. They are building a beautiful 
museum there. This was, I think, somewhat stimulated by 
this big mural, and also by the fact that [Ivan] Mestrovic , 
the great Yugoslavian sculptor, was at Notre Dame for the 
last seven or eight years of his life. They built him the 
most beautiful studio, and he was really artist-in-residence , 
but he taught a few students sculpture. He was a very 
powerful influence on the college. He was terribly 
excited about this whole thing, and he saw the early 
sketches and was most enthusiastic. He died before the 
mural was finished, but he was a great man. The people 
who were in the art department and who were running the 
museum were first-rate people who had really strong 
feelings about building a fine gallery there. They are 
collecting some very fine things in many fields — not only 
painting and sculpture, but in primitive art and in 


graphics. It's a very lively place and I think it's a 
very fine school. I like the spirit. We know about 
their football and basketball teams, but there seems to 
be a real air of dedication there. 
GOODWIN: Have you been back a few times since? 
SHEETS: I've been back a couple of times, and I enjoy 
it very much. I hear constantly from both Father Hesburgh 
and Father Joyce and a few of the other people that I've 
known there . 

GOODWIN: Have you worked in granite again? 

SHEETS: Not to the same degree. I've used a lot of granite 
as background, choosing a very strong, interesting value, a 
dark black or a brilliant, deep red or sometimes even deep 
green into which I inlay mosaics. Though it's hard to cut 
out and fit the mosaics in, I like it very much as a real 
part of a decoration. As I told you the other day, rather 
than the rectangle, I think it's sometimes much more 
beautiful to do this. I love granite in that sense. I've 
used granite in a lot of buildings. But I haven't done 
another mural . 

GOODWIN: Let's talk about another project that was com- 
pleted around this time, 1965, the mosaic mural for the 
National Shrine in Washington, D.C. 

SHEETS: Well, that was a tremendously interesting project. 
I was asked by the architect to come to Washington to dis- 
cuss the possibility of doing this dome over the main altar. 


It's a lOO-foot-diameter dome, and the spring line is 
at 100 feet in the air. It's a very powerful, big 
church. I think it's the sixth largest church in the 
world. I had no idea until I went back there what they 
were doing. It's called the National Shrine, the Catholic 
shrine, and just the nave itself is exactly the size of 
a football field, 100 by 300 feet. On the two sides, 
there are aisles that are probably 30 feet wide that 
extend on either side of the main columns that support 
the building. Then outside of those side aisles are 
enormous chapels, representing the different countries 
of the world. It's really an international shrine, 
because many of the European countries and many of the 
others, like Mexico and South America, have special 
shrines that their country has given. So there must be 
thirty such shrines in addition to the main church. The 
church was built underground, beneath the floor, and they 
called it "The Flat Top" for thirty or forty years in 
Washington. And they used the basements, what are now 
the basements of the church, for their various ceremonies. 
It was actually a church. Then when they started the 
cathedral, of course they have great educational facilities 
and that kind of thing underground. It's an enormous 

Well, this dome sits well back from the nave. In 
fact, like a few other cathedrals I've visited, it's 


probably at least 100 feet from the end of the nave or 
the altar rail back to the main altar where the big 
baldachino goes up some 60 feet with the dome above it. 
They asked me to do the apocalypse concept for this dome, 
and I made a design which they liked. It has the theme 
of the apocalypse: the Lamb of God in the center, and 
then the great saints, which I formed into a huge cross. 
Between that are the symbols which are involved. Then 
in the pendentives are the various angels and whatnot. 

It's a very simple design basically, although I 
found when we started to make the drawings here, we 
were again up on a big scale, thirty-foot figures, with 
the figures obviously being drawn for a dome shape, a 
dome volume. It's a totally different problem than 
working on a flat surface. Never having done a big 
dome before, I read everything I could read about all 
the geometry that was involved and did all the mathe- 
matics that I could get help on to work it all out to 
be sure that I was right. 

Obviously a dome has a series of wedgelike shapes 
that also are bulging in the middle of each wedge. When 
you peel an orange, and pull the sections open, they're 
not just straight lines. There has to be a bow in them 
so they will fit the form. I made all the attempts that 
I could and finally worked out one of these foxrms, 
realizing that sometimes a head, half of a head, or part 


of a head would be on one edge of a section, and then on 
the next section, perhaps three feet apart, would be the 
rest of the head. It was a real interesting problem to 
solve . 

I was steaming up about it one night at a dinner 
party, the complexity of it, sort of talking to myself, 
and there was a young mathematician there teaching at 
Pomona College. He said, "Millard, why don't you come 
down and let me work it out on the computer for you?" 
So I went down to see if I was right, to have it verified. 
It turned out that we were right to an exact quarter of 
an inch on this first big segment. From then on we used 
the computer. It was so easy. He said, "I can tell you 
where you are within a quarter of an inch anyplace on 
the dome." He ran that computer for about three hours, 
and we had all of the figures we needed to work from. It 
really did make an interesting departure from the old way 
of doing it. The reason we had to be so accurate was 
that we had to send these cartoons — these final, finished 
cartoons — to Germany, where the dome was executed. The 
church wanted to let that contract separately, and there 
was no way that we could compete in this country finan- 
cially, with the cost of our labor at that time, to do 
it here. I wanted very much to do it here. But I must 
say, they did a fantastic job. I love every bit of the 
execution and the way it was done in Germany. It was 


quite superior to what I had been having done in Italy. 
I thought that in their technique they really did grasp 
everything we were trying to get. 

The little sketch that we're looking at here in this 
catalog* is a flat rendition of the original sketch. But 
in the big dome there's tremendous mystery and the feeling 
of looking up into a pretty spooky other world up there. 
I think that Lamb of God is one of the best things we've 
done, in terms of its powerful setting, which you really 
can't get from this sketch at all. 

GOODWIN: Was there any decoration there previously? 
SHEETS: No, the church started out with the idea that 
inch by inch and space by space , they would move from 
plain surfaces to finished decoration. Now there has 
been another dome that has been executed by a French 
artist; it's a beautiful dome. They've been talking 
to me for some time about doing the main dome, which is 
150 feet in diameter. That's down at the entrance of 
the church. But that's a matter of approximately three- 
quarters of a million dollars just for execution. So 
they're looking for a donor for that. 

On the other hand, I've done since then a side 
chapel to Our Lady, as it's called. There are three 

* Millard Sheets . Lang Art Gallery, Scripps College, 
March 27-April 29, 1976. 


separate rooms, three domes, and a side wall panel that 
I found quite an exciting job. It's a more intimate kind 
of thing. The main dome in this area is probably twenty- 
five feet high. The decoration is such an integral part 
of the altar and the whole thing the way it's designed 
that I enjoyed doing this very much. A group of figures 
move away from the crucifix itself, clear around the dome, 
representing virtually every race. It has a very special 
mood in it. It's something that I'm very proud of. It's 
more intimate. It's a more tender thing, yet it's a 
pretty bold thing, if you could see the original. That 
sketch does not in any way suggest the power in it. Then 
there was a lot of just plain, rich decoration in one 
other dome. It didn't have any figurative design. It 
was just real rich decoration. It was a lot of fun. 
GOODWIN: What do you like most about working in mosaics? 
SHEETS: I think there's something very exciting about a 
permanent material. It isn't because it's permanent; it's 
because it's ungiving. You have to work with it. You've 
got to create with finality. As I said, with paint you 
can move and push things around, and you can raise it or 
lower it in value, and you can brighten it or grey it in 
color. In mosaic, you make a decision, just as you do 
in the granite. You pick out a piece and you put it next 
to another piece. It either speaks to it and it's exciting 
and there's a richness, or there's dullness, i think that 


mosaic is a wonderful medium in this respect. Also, I 
don't necessarily say "primitive" things, but I think I 
like things that are stronger in design and less fussy. 
I think that the minute that you work in mosaic or you 
work in stained glass or you work in granite, you're 
committing yourself to something that has to stand on 
its own without any prettiness or little pretty sweetening, 
GOODWIN: What other artists in the United States are 
working in mosaic on such a large scale? I'm not familiar 

with any. 

SHEETS: Well, there are many artists who work in mosaic. 
There are quite a few artists who do small panels, par- 
ticularly in churches, and occasionally in a commercial 
building you'll see an example. But I don't know of any 
other artist that has worked in the continuous way that 
we have in our group because of the opportunities that I 
explained, through Home, and those opportunities lead me 
to all these other opportunities. I know that it's the 
reason that so many, many very big jobs have come to me. 
It is because people from other parts of the country have 
seen what we've done with Home. They've been interested 
enough to look me up and say, "Come do it." We've really 
worked on a national scale in this respect and had oppor- 
tunities that have just been continuous. 

There are some marvelous people who have done 
beautiful things. Jean and Arthur Ames did mosaics 


before I ever made a mosaic. I brought them to Claremont 
many years ago where Jean taught at Scripps , and they made 
beautiful mosaics. They worked together as a team until 
Arthur died, but Jean herself has done some marvelous 
things on her own, though not in a continuous process. 
They'd do maybe one commission every five years or some- 
thing like that. There are people I know in various parts 
of the country. 

There's one company in St. Louis that I should have 
thought of first, a company called the Ravenna Mosaic 
Company. It's not in Ravenna — it's in St. Louis. It's 
a German family, the Heuduck family. They are the first 
people that I worked with in a mosaic. The first ones I 
ever made, I found out about them and sent my cartoon to 
St. Louis. They executed it and came out here and set it. 
I think they did at least five or six jobs for me. These 
antedated Home Savings. These go way back. I think they 
do by far the best commercial work, in the sense that they 
do not design themselves but they execute. I'm sure they 
could design certain things, but they have never tried to 
rival or to compete with the artists, to my knowledge. 
They've done a tremendous amount of work. In fact, they 
were the people who the church contracted with to execute 
the dome. Then they went to Germany, and they hired the 
German company and supervised the work. That's why I 
know it came out so well, because they knew me and knew 


what I wanted, and I spent a great deal of time with them 
before they went to Germany. I'm sure if we do this other 
very big dome that they would work the same way. They're 
remarkable people. So there are mosaics being done, but 
not too many artists actually work with it themselves. 
GOODWIN: You explained once how a business friend of 
yours asked how he might negotiate his fee with a certain 
company. What has been your experience in working with a 
project as large as, say, the Notre Dame library? What 
are the considerations to be examined? 

SHEETS : Well , I think we talked about someone who was 
really getting into the business. Isn't that right? 

SHEETS: If I remember the incident, i think I criticized 
the thought that there was just an arbitrary figure he 
could pull out of a hat. Wasn't that what we were dis- 

SHEETS: I think I said something about that he should 
go back and really analyze his own time and his own 
background. Well, now in a case like, well, like today, 
for example, where I happened to discuss a very interesting 
job. I know now, because I'm working in it all the time, 
and because I have my own staff, what it's going to cost 
pretty nearly to a dollar — obviously not to a dollar, but 
let's say if we're talking about $20,000, I know accurately 


to within $400 or $500 what it will cost me to have this 
mosaic cut. I know how much time I'm going to give to it. 
I know how much time my chief assistant will give to work 
on the project. I know, of course, what the material 
costs. I know my studio overhead. So it's not a very 
difficult thing for me to arrive pretty quickly at a 
cost point. Now, from that point on you're involved 
basically with the kind of clients you have and what 
they can afford. Also experienced clients, people like 
those in many of the churches, know that there's not a 
standard fee, but they know that there is a certain area 
that the price will be within. 

Now, I'm the first to say that we have ranged a great 
deal in price, feeling that at times we wanted very much 
to help some organization or institution or even some- 
times an individual owner have something because they 
really felt deeply that they wanted it. We've done 
things for either little profit or no profit and even 
on occasions at a loss, but you can't do that continuously. 
We know pretty much what it's going to cost. 


JANUARY 13, 1977 

GOODWIN: Without necessarily identifying a particular 
project, can you give me some idea of what kind of fees 
you charge for your large-scale commissions? 
SHEETS: Are you speaking now of art primarily, or 
architecture, or what? Or both? 
GOODWIN: Both or either. 

SHEETS: Well, I can give you some round figures. Twenty 
years ago we used to feel that the average mosaic, to be 
almost entirely filled with figurative material, would 
cost a client around fifty dollars a square foot. Now, 
that has gone to pot because in those days we could buy 
the most beautiful glass from Italy, where it's made- 
most of the best glass comes from Italy--and we used to 
average about three or four dollars per square foot for 
color. Certain colors did cost like seven or eight dollars, 
but your average would hit about three or four dollars. 
That average has gone to eight and nine and ten now, for 
example. Gold that used to cost about ten dollars a foot 
is now closer to thirty dollars a foot. This is a simple 
inflationary fact that there's no way of getting around. 
Nobody is about to make his own glass. We stock better 
than $50,000 worth of glass at all times in the studio, 
just to keep working. So the old fifty-dollar fee for 
covering the labor, the design, the installation, and 


all of the cutting is simply out of the question. Now, 
it is true that by careful designing, with simpler back- 
grounds, and then more definitive areas of decoration, 
we can keep it perhaps in the sixty-dollar field, but 
we're not set on any one of these prices. I used to get 
almost anything cut for twenty dollars a foot, and now 
it's about thirty dollars average. A person cutting full 
time has to be very good to do a couple of square feet on 
a head a day, because cutting a head or delicate features, 
that kind of thing, is very difficult. [tape recorder 
turned off] So that has made a big difference. Then the 
biggest change of all is installation. Due to the labor 
union control now, we cannot put up a mural ourselves. 
By that I mean I can't go out and hire the top mosaic 
setter. I have to go through the union. 
GOODWIN: What union is that? 

SHEETS: The tile setters union [Tile and Marble Helpers 
and Shopmen] . We have to go through the union. The 
setter has to have a certain kind of assistant at a cer- 
tain kind of price. He has to buy the materials in a 
different way. I can't furnish the materials. So whereas 
it used to cost in the neighborhood of maybe as low as two 
dollars a foot to install, it's running now much closer to 
ten or eleven dollars a square foot to install. So you 
take the increase in the mosaic that I've given you and 
the increase in the cutting--almost every one of these 


has gone up ten dollars a foot. That's not counting my 
time, which has remained much the same as far as the 
actual way we've charged. There is the designing and 
rendering, and then making the color sketch, and then 
getting it approved, then making a full-sized cartoon, 
then tracing it again for the cutters. There's a tremen- 
dous amount of time involved in it. So really, if I were 
offered a job tomorrow, just on a commercial basis, I 
don't even think I could talk to anyone under seventy- 
five dollars or eighty dollars a foot, whereas in my own 
buildings, we do it nearly for cost because of the impor- 
tance of the mosaics to the building. Obviously, I've 
got to make the money then some other way — fees that I 
get for designing architecture and for supervising and 
all of that. 

Now, painted murals, we used to get, as a rule, 
around twenty-five dollars a foot, for a painted mural 
done on linen and mounted on the wall, either before it 
was painted or after it was painted. We've had to go 
up at least to thirty-five dollars now because of just 
the increase of one thing alone, and that's the linen 
itself. The linen canvas has gone up incredibly — paints 
also, and even scaffold rental. These are the things 
that are so outside in a sense of what the problem is, 
but there they are. Basically, the fees that we get 
for the overall design carry the projects. 


GOODWIN: What is the minimum amount you would work for? 
I know you make exceptions , depending on particular con- 

SHEETS: I've done some of my best jobs for nothing. I've 
done a great deal of designing for friends, for people 
that I admire and like and know will appreciate it. At 
the same time, I have a very good annual income based 
upon the amount of work that I do . It's income that, by 
working those extra hours per day per month, has always 
been continuous. But I've done many jobs, like one I'm 
doing right now. I'm doing the entrance to a big museum 
in Lubbock, Texas, all the architectural interior, I'd 
guess you'd have to say, because it's a memorial to a 
man that I designed several buildings for who recently 
died. In this job I don't think I'll get more than 
traveling expenses and $1,000 for a hell of a lot of 
work. But, you know, you just have to do it both ways 
in this world. That's just part of my way of life. But 
I don't think there's a set amount that I would require 
to do a job. 

First of all, I've found that you never know how 
big a job is until you get into it, until you explore it 
with your client. I think this is a terribly important 
point. Lots of times a client may have something in mind, 
and it may be very big or it may be very small. If you 
get really inside the project with them and their thinking 


and you really analyze the problem with them, from your 
experience you know that they're either thinking in too 
big terms to do the job or in too small terms. You can 
give them a tremendous assist. I think that probably 
one of the reasons I've been successful working with 
clients all over the country is that I can get together 
with clients very quickly and discuss the matter until 
we understand each other. We have good ground rules, 
and they know that I'm not trying to push a project into 
something that it shouldn't be. On the other hand, I've 
told people that they're making a terrible mistake not 
to conceive of the job in terms that they must conceive 
of it to be successful. Certainly in planning architec- 
ture, without enough land, you're in trouble today, with 
the parking problems and with all the other things that 
are necessary. A building just shouldn't come up to a 
sidewalk and have no front and no chance for creating a 
setting. I mean, lots of times clients don't understand 
this. It's a piece of business property, and there it is 
right on the street, so why not? Well, sure, why not? 
But that's why our streets are dull and why our buildings 
are so often mediocre. You can't do much with them. By 
the same token, they get very extravagant ideas sometimes 
about space. They haven't analyzed their problems to the 
point that they know how much they can get out of much 
less space to create a building of much better quality 


than they would get if they just built a lot of bulk 
space. I think this is a hell of the part of the 
responsibility of being an artist or a designer, and 
I feel that this is not stressed in school to the degree 
that it should be. 

The word professional means social responsibility. 
I think if you're going to be a professional artist you 
have to look at a job not from the point of view of how 
much you are going to get out of this, but what is the 
right solution for the problem. Then your part fits in, 
if everything is fair and right. I think this is an 
abysmal lack on the part of so many artists ' background 
in their training. There's no one that's ever really 
brought this to their attention. They get out and they 
have all sorts of ideas about wanting to sell paintings 
at very good prices without a reputation, without back- 
ground. Maybe they have a lot of talent, but if somebody 
asks them to do a job, many artists don't even know how 
to start talking about it. The result is that the pro- 
ject is closed off because of their inability to deal 
with the problem. I feel so strongly that an artist 
should be trained in the variety of skillful ways, and 
certainly one of the ways is to know how to figure a 

GOODWIN: Let's continue discussing some of your large 
commissions, such as the Garrison Theatre at Claremont, 


which was finished in 1966. I believe you mentioned 
earlier that this was an example where you gave your 
talent to the colleges. 

SHEETS: Yes. I think it might be well to tell the 
background of that theater, from the point of view 
again of how you face a different kind of a problem. 
It wasn't merely a matter of being asked to design a 
theater. Having been with the colleges many, many 
years, I saw many master plans presented to the col- 
leges. I saw a few of them accepted and many of them 
never accepted because the different colleges couldn't 
get together, then even those plans which were accepted 
being ignored after about a year or two. It was a dis- 
turbing thing to me that people involved in education 
couldn't see through this problem and come to grips 
with the fact that they were having difficulties within 
their own family, and yet they criticized everything 
that goes on outside. So finally one time I iifas asked 
to discuss a problem with a special committee. This 
was when I was on the Scripps board. 

I went to the meeting and found out that they were 
in great disturbance about what to do around the main 
library facility of the colleges, which was surrounded 
by a sort of a vacuum. Although the library was sup- 
ported by three different colleges, it had no sense of 
belonging, let alone being a center. So during the 


process of this discussion, it was suggested that I 
might see what I could do to pull this thing together. 
Well, being somewhat wary and having watched all these 
other failures, I presented it to the group this way: 
I said, "I'm just going to say first that I'm willing 
to do this. I'd like to work out a plan for this whole 
area, and I will do it without any obligation to the 
college, providing that the various boards are informed 
that they will be invited, eventually, to a preview of 
this master plan and what I think should happen in terms 
of buildings and so forth around this big quadrangle. But 
this is without any obligation. The boards do not have 
to feel that in any way they should necessarily accept 
this. But if they do accept it as a plan, it will be 
followed." I wanted it in a legal form that there will 
be no more question about it. They had a perfect right 
to pay me nothing and turn it down and forget it. Further- 
more, they could choose anyone to design any one of these 
buildings in the complex, if they followed the master 
plan completely--not a style of architecture, but the 
basic plan. They agreed, and I did spend a great deal 
of money and a heck of a lot of time designing this whole 
area. Then I went to a very happy meeting at the 
California Club. The trustees lived mostly in the Los 
Angeles areas, and they met and accepted the plan. I 
made it very clear personally at that meeting, reiterating 


the agreement on which this thing had been done before 
they accepted it. So everyone knew that that was the 

Well, shortly after that, I was called by a man, Mr. 
[Robert H.] Garrison, who said, "My wife and I gave twenty 
years ago, a considerable amount of money "--when $125,000 
would have been a lot of money — "to build a small, experi- 
mental theater." He said, "I'm damned mad about it because 
nothing's happened. They didn't give us back our money, 
on which we could collect interest, even though they 
hadn't used it. They've collected the interest, but 
nothing has happened. I'm just damned mad about it." 

So I got in touch with the president of the Claremont 
Colleges, the associated colleges' graduate school, and I 
told him. I said, "This is not the right kind of a thing, 
and this man's very upset about it." He said, "I know 
he's upset, and I don't blame him, but we've never been 
able to get anybody off the ground. We've talked to 
various groups at different times about what they thought 
would constitute an experimental theater. Let's get 
together with him." 

We did, and he said what he wanted was a theater 
that probably wouldn't seat over 275 people and that had 
a first-rate stage where they could really do experimental 
work, and it would be available to all the different col- 
leges. So the board then asked me to proceed as a regular 


commission to design the theater. I had a great deal 
of fun working with different members of the staff and 
with, of course, the people who were giving the money 
as well as the college administrative people. I designed 
a small theater, and we had excellent estimates of the 
cost, which cost was going to be about twice what they 
had given originally, to do what they wanted and to do 
it very well. It fit into the overall scheme in the 
right way. 

Well, they were practically ready to go ahead with 
it when they called in the two directors of the theaters, 
one from Pomona College and one from Scripps. Pomona 
College particularly just raised the roof. They said, 
"We don't want a little theater. We want a bigger 
theater. We can't use a little theater like this." 
So overnight it became not a small, intimate, experi- 
mental theater, but a theater that had to take care of 
about 750 people. I was asked then by the board to start 
over again and do a theater that would be both intimate 
and large. [tape recorder turned off] 

The result of this was that I designed a theater 
that had entrances from both sides in the middle of the 
theater. By lighting the front part of the theater as 
the audience would arrive, they had an intimate theater 
of about 300 seats. Back of that, going up at a much 
steeper degree, there were about 450 seats. Without 


even using curtains, it's extraordinary how you can 
make that into two theaters, just by lighting the front 
or lighting the whole theater. The price then jumped 
into five or six times what the original theater was 
going to be, way back to the $125,000 of twenty years 
ago. Mr. and Mrs. Garrison were extremely liberal. 
They gave better than half of the money, and they were 
terribly excited about the theater. I designed it then 
as a major part of this new plan where the big, heavy 
overhang in front would have been a part of a continuous 
arcade going the full length of that block. Then it was 
to turn and go down the other block and surround this 
library with an arcade. 

Well, that was part of the plan, so we built it on 
that basis. We built it out of brick, which we thought 
would be a nice material to use in that whole block. 
When we got around to the idea of doing the big mural , 
which I planned from the beginning to do , I realized that 
with this tremendous increase in cost on the building and 
the fact that in the colleges that kind of thing becomes 
really an extra, I went to the people who gave the money 
for the theater, and I said, "I will design this, and I 
will execute it if you will pay half of the cost with me 
of the granite." We did split the cost, and we gave it 
to the colleges, the three of us, literally as a gift. 
But it made the building complete, and I really am very 


pleased with those mosaics because I think they do sym- 
bolize three episodes of Shakespeare. 
GOODWIN: Right. Which three are they? 
SHEETS: Well, you have Cleopatra on the left, and you 
have Romeo and Juliet at the top, and then on the right 
you have King Lear. I think there's a scale there that's 
very nice. 

Now, the disappointment I have in this job is the 
fact that at the same time we were building this theater, 
they went ahead, the same board, with a plan for the 
building on the west, which completely ignored the master 
plan. As a result, that arcade, which should have gone 
right on down the west side of the complex, is not there, 
although there is some hope that they will get money to 
complete that whole north block, which will be basically 
music, drama, and the arts. Their hope is to get a very 
powerful, big building for a museum and for the graduate 
art school and a music school in between. There would be 
a covered walk the full length of that block, though it 
would drop down to a lower height than the height over 
the entrance to the theater, which was always planned 
that way. It would drop down to about, I think, eighteen 
feet, whereas I think we're around twenty-six or twenty- 
seven feet high at the theater. That may go ahead, and 
that will help. 

I also designed a chapel to go in the northeast 


corner of that big complex with a whole new concept of 
a garden. How much of that will be done, I don't know. 
I'm not there to push it anymore, but we'll see. But 
that's only one of about fifteen plans that I've seen 
ignored. At least we did that one part of it. 

As for people who use that [Garrison Theatre] , they've 
had several professional theater groups there. For two 
summers, I think, they had marvelous theater groups. The 
one from England said that the acoustics are about the 
best they've ever found. Dr. [Vern 0.] Knudsen from UCLA, 
who was a very famous man in acoustics — I think he since 
has died — we hired professionally to help us on the 
acoustics, and they are excellent. They're just marvelous. 
There is a full working stage, which you can do anything 
on. We have ample room for building scenery and storing 
scenery and all that kind of thing. It's a very fine 
working theater in that sense. 

GOODWIN: I've seen the theater, but I've never attended 
a performance. 

SHEETS: Yes, well, I'd like to get you inside sometime. 
GOODWIN: Right. Here's another major commission; mosaics, 
I believe, for the Hilton Hotel in Honolulu. 
SHEETS: No, that's a tile decoration. I was working for 
the Interpace Company, in charge of their design group, 
and the Hilton Hotel approached me with the problem of 
wanting to symbolize their hotel with the rainbow, which 


is the symbol for Hawaii. Well, when I looked at the 
hotel and saw that it was 280 feet high and that this 
panel between the windows on either side was only 27 feet 
wide, I wondered how we were going to get a rainbow into 
280 by 27 feet. But we made a lot of sketches and finally 
saw that it was possible to do this. I presented the 
sketch, in which the rainbow is treated in a semiabstract 
way, to the Hilton Hotel people, and they were very 
enthusiastic . 

Then we had the problem of trying to figure out at 
Interpace what it would cost to execute it because, here 
again, we were involved in such a big scale. Again we 
rented the Pan Pacific Auditorium, and I remember that we 
came out to almost an inch in swinging those great arcs 
for the rainbow. We used the full width and the full 
length of the Pan Pacific, and we actually used wire, 
rather than cord, because there's so much stretch in any 
heavy string. We swung the radius on the floor of the 
Pan Pacific for the different colors of the rainbow, and 
I drew the rest of it in without any difficulty, just on 
a grid pattern basis. 

But then the problem was how to execute it. If each 
tile had to be painted by hand — these were twelve-inch- 
square tiles — I knew that it would cost absolutely 
unlimited money. I didn't see how we could get the 
graduation of color, which we wanted; we didn't want 


hard edges. So we went out and hired a group of twenty 
or twenty-five good art students from various colleges and 
art schools, and I brought them together, after we'd made 
this tremendous layout from which we could make tracings 
of each area. I taught certain ones to trace in sections. 
They were working on a space twenty-seven feet wide. We 
worked out techniques by getting the widest tracing paper 
in the world, then having them get down on their knees 
right on top of the tile which had been all laid out, and 
in this way they traced the design onto the tiles. Then 
we built a huge platform that we could lay sections on. 
We worked out a way of suspending fellows who could use 
spray guns for spraying the glaze on from above. We did 
this without any chance for corrections. Of course when 
you're glazing, what you'll fire out as red may look green 
when you put it on, and all the values look alike. They're 
all light. So we ran two or three sections and fired them. 
I remember how worried the various top people were in the 
Interpace plant. They looked at these things, and they 
said, "Oh, my God, how do you know what it looks like?" 
Of course, every tile was numbered, and here was a case 
where we had a lot of tile. If you multiplied 27 times 
280, you have a lot. 

Finally I was so harassed by these top executives that 
I said, "All right." By this time we had about 4 percent 
of it done, and standing on the ground beside it there is 


no way to look at it. The thing's going to go up in the 
air that far, and you're going to look at it from some 
distance anyway. There are two of the panels, one on 
each end of the building, the same size and the same 
design. It was really a tremendous problem. Here, again, 
I think there was about $240,000 or $250,000 involved in 
the total project. The executives were worried because 
they'd see a little bubble once in a while on some tile, 
which will happen once in a while. Now, in an ordinary 
run of tile, you'd just throw that tile out, but in this 
case we couldn't throw that tile out. It would have been 
very difficult, almost impossible, to exactly duplicate it. 

So finally in disgust, after I was pressured enough, 
I rented a helicopter this time, and I took the two top 
men in the company up with me. I'll never forget it. We 
took off up there in Glendale, and we swung down over the 
parking lot where we'd laid it all out, this 40 percent 
that was finished. As we approached it from a hell of a 
long ways off, I knew we were in. There wasn't any ques- 
tion at all, because the thing read from a mile and a half 
away. We came in at 500 feet, and at 500 feet it was 
simply marvelous. You couldn't believe how well it read. 
So we went up to 1,000 feet, then we went up to 2,000 
feet, and that was the last trouble I had on the job. 
The people from then on were extremely pleased, and there 
were no problems until they put them up. 


Unfortunately, the company that put them up were 
willing to pay for a supervising engineer, a ceramic 
engineer, for, I guess, the first two weeks or something 
like that. Then they felt that because he wasn't exploding 
every day with some new problem and some new suggestion, 
they didn't need him any longer. Because of that, they've 
had a very serious problem about the mural, which should 
never have happened. They did not completely clean the 
concrete wall behind the mural after a certain height up, 
and they lost quite a few tile. These have been replaced, 
and now they've had to go back and repin a lot of those 
tiles down again — which is utterly unnecessary, but they 
just simply got into the situation of being plain cheap 
when they shouldn ' t have . 

Still, the mural is very effective. It's quite 
interesting from the sea, and when you fly in from Hawaii 
on the west end, you can see it for ten miles. Everybody 
takes photographs. Of course, you can see the other side 
from anywhere around the hotel and clear from the free- 
way. It reads very well. As a symbol, the Hilton people 
have used that rainbow now throughout their whole chain 
all over the world. 

GOODWIN: Right. Uniforms and menus. 

SHEETS: Costumes and uniforms and menus and everything 
else. And it was a lot of fun. We had some bad days 
wondering for sure how well we could control it, but 


those kids were wonderful. You know, many of them stayed 
on. We kept them on and they worked there for years. It 
was good experience for those kids, too, because they had 
to be a part of a team, which was a totally new thing for 
many of them. That was the hardest thing for most of them 
to adjust to. They're used to doing their own thing, but 
here they had to be a piece of something that was moving, 
and it was very interesting. 

GOODWIN: Let's talk now about the Los Angeles City Hall 
East, where you did two murals. 

SHEETS: Right. This was again with the same company. 
GOODWIN: Where is that company located? 
SHEETS : Interpace is the present name for what used to 
be Gladding-McBean, which was a very famous California 
company. They produced Franciscan dinnerware and Franciscan 
tile. They merged with Interpace approximately twelve years 
ago and became part of a conglomerate corporation, which 
at the time of this merger was International Pipe and 
something else. So they changed the name to Interpace. 
It's a coined name. The "International" part was all 
right, but the rest of it they just made up. So anyway, 
when the architect asked me to do the mural for the city 
hall, he said he'd like to have it done in tile. Well, 
we had worked long and hard at developing this technique 
where we could fire all of the colors at one time. Didn't 
we discuss that before? 



SHEETS: This was so new, nothing had been done like this 
before, where you could fire brilliant reds, brilliant 
yellows, greens, blues, greys or blacks and earth colors 
all at the same time. So I was excited about using the 
tile for this mural. I worked up the two sketches, more 
or less depicting the idea of the melting pot, the dif- 
ferent cultures that make up our culture. I think there 
are parts of that that are particularly beautiful, and I 
think the overall effect is interesting. 

GOODWIN: Does one mural have a distinct subject and the 
other mural an opposite subject? 

SHEETS: No, not the opposite. In each one it's a con- 
glomerate of cultures. I took all of the major cultures 
of the world that have been the sources of our own American 
life, from the primitive to the more sophisticated cultures 
that have come here, and I've tried to do the symbols that 
would be as clear as possible in representing each of them. 
To put it together as a kind of total mosaic of design was 
a lot of fun, and I think the color is interesting. It's 
real sad to me that the lighting, which is so necessary , 
isn't there because of the lighting freeze. There's about 
half-light on at night, and no light on in the daytime. 
It's set back some 100 feet from the edge of the building, 
where it's part of the elevator wall. All they get now 
is a flat light from way off, which is not a very good 


light; and what little they get is less than good light 
because it has a little inclination to shine, whereas 
the down lights that were a part of the integral design, 
all hidden in the ceiling, would have given perfect light 
with no shine on the mural, and the color would have just 
flared out in a beautiful way. I hope it will not be 
frozen forever and that the lighting will eventually be 
done right. But it was exciting to do, and here again I 
had to use a lot of people to work with me on the execu- 
tion. I think I must have had eight artists working with 
me. I had one man that did nothing but wash the bottles 
out of which we squeezed the glaze. It's all hand-squeezed 
from a bottle with a little nozzle on the end of it. 
GOODWIN: Is that how the painting is done, with a bottle? 
SHEETS: Yes. The glazes are applied by squeezing out of 
a flexible bottle. 

GOODWIN: It's like decorating a cake. 
SHEETS: Right, exactly. Except we had a variety of 
nozzles from almost wire-thin tubes that would let the 
tiniest stream through to some that would come out pretty 
fast for the big areas. With the techniques that we 
developed for bringing colors together, by putting on 
the outlines with one color and then filling between 
them with another color and so forth, we produced some 
perfectly beautiful qualities. The color itself is very 
rich in these glazes that we developed. We spent a 


tremendous amount of money in research at Interpace, 
hundreds of thousands of dollars over a period of nine 
years, developing the ability to do these things. 

Here again, after a very careful, very finished 
cartoon was made and we had very good color sketches, it 
was fun to see how you could absorb eight or ten people 
working and keep the quality so that it all looks like it 
was done by one person. It's amazing that people can learn 
to work together. And that's, of course, another thing I 
feel so strongly about, because it gets away from this 
continuous, egocentric idea that "I've got to show what 
I can do." There are things that are bigger than that, 
and we've learned to work together on all of these projects. 
GOODWIN: I went back and looked at the murals a few 
weeks ago. 
SHEETS: Did you? 

GOODWIN: Yeah, and I noticed a few subjects that you 
had mentioned as being influential in your development, 
even when you first went to Europe in 1929. You men- 
tioned how impressive the Avignon Piet^ was when you 
first saw it, and I think that's in the mural. 
SHEETS: I used it, yes. To suggest the French culture. 
What else? Well, I used some German Gothic sculpture. 
Sometimes I used people; sometimes I used art — anything 
that I felt would best symbolize the special cultures. 
I think the African figures are nice. I think that the 


American Indian is all right. Of course, those are much 
easier, really, in a way than the other cultures. I like 
the Jewish scholars. Do you remember that particular 
area? The Chinese is fun. The Japanese is fun. It's 
all fun because I love all these cultures. 

GOODWIN: There's a large sequence relating to nineteenth- 
century California history, with the pioneers and the Gold 

SHEETS: Right. It's sort of our whole cultural back- 
ground . 

GOODWIN: While we have a little time left, let's mention 
the Scottish Rite temples in Los Angeles and San Francisco, 
which were actually done before the Notre Dame library. 
SHEETS: The Scottish Rite cathedral was one of the most 
exciting projects I ever had anything to do with. It 
came to me in a strange way. The head of the Scottish 
Rite cathedral here in Los Angeles at the time. Judge 
Ellsworth Meyer, called me to ask me if I could go to 
dinner with a small group of people to discuss an 
"interesting subject." I said, "Well, are you sure I 
could enter into the discussion?" He said, "Yes, we 
think you can." I said, "Do you wish to discuss the 
subject matter?" He said, "No, not until dinnertime." 
Well, I went to dinner at the [Los Angeles] Athletic Club 
with him. I'd met him two or three times before. In 
fact, his wife, it turned out, had been one of my school 


friends through grammar school and high school. But I 
went to meet them, and they were quite an interesting 
group. There were doctors and some lawyers and this 
judge and two or three others, eight people all together. 
They said, "We are going to build a new temple." They 
called it a "cathedral." I said, "Well, what kind of a 
cathedral?" They said, "Scottish Rite." I was a little 
dopey. I thought it might be Masonic, but I wasn't sure. 
I said, "Well, where is your old one?" I thought that 
might give me a clue, and they told me where it was, 
down on Flower Street, something like that. Then I knew 
that they were talking about a Masonic temple. They said, 
"We are trying to be very thorough before we go ahead with 
this job. We have met nine firms of architects, of which 
at least the principal men are members of our particular 
Masonry degree and also our particular temple. We've 
discussed the matter at length with each of them, and 
we've asked them for their idea of how they would approach 
this problem. You're the only one outside of the group 
that belong to the temple that we've interviewed. But 
we would like to discuss it with you. This is strictly 
in a discussion state. We're not deciding on anything, 
and we don't know just when we will, but we definitely 
like some of the buildings we've seen of yours and would 
like to include you in the discussion." 

So they told me quite a bit about what has to be in 


a temple of this kind. I didn't dream that there was a 
huge auditorium and a huge dining room. The auditorium 
seats 3,000, and the dining room seats 1,500, and they 
have many lodge rooms and recreation rooms. It's a city, 
a tremendous thing. They told me a lot about the project, 
and they said, "Would this kind of a thing appeal to you? 
How would you go about it?" I said, "Well, I don't think 
I'd go about it any differently than I would any other 
kind of a project. As a matter of fact," I said, "the 
first thing I would want to do is to prepare a very care- 
fully thought out list of questions which I would like to 
present to you people for answers. You cannot design in 
a vacuum, whether it's a big project or a little project, 
whether it's for this kind of public use or semipublic use 
or private industry. It doesn't make any difference. I'd 
have to know a lot more about you. As a matter of fact, 
the first question I would put at the top of my list is, 
'Why do you think you need to build a big temple? What's 
wrong with the one you've got?' I don't know anything 
about the one you've got, except that I've seen the out- 
side and it looks horrible. But," I said, "that isn't 
the important thing. The important thing is why do you 
think you need a temple? Maybe the idea of Masonry isn't 
even practical today." They really looked so shocked at 
that! I said, "I have no idea, not being a Mason, but I 
certainly believe that you should really answer a lot of 


questions. I don't think it would make a damned bit of 
difference what I think you should do at this point, 
because I don't know, and I don't think any other designer 
or architect could tell you any better, unless of course 
they're active members and have a lot of strong feelings, 
which I don't have. I wouldn't attempt to tell you what 
you should do. " 

They said, "Well, do you envisage any form?" I 
said, "Oh, no, I don't envisage any form at all at this 
point because it's got to grow out of the function and 
out of the whole idea of what you want." So they said, 
"Well, why don't you write us a list?" We had a pleasant 
dinner party, and we didn't get any farther than that, 
but I was happy to be included. I spent a lot of time 
then for maybe six weeks, five or six weeks — I know I 
didn't hurry — trying to really think out the problems. 
I knew the site. The site was magnificent. 


JANUARY 16, 1977 

GOODWIN: Last time we began to discuss Mr. Sheets ' s work 
for the Scottish Rite Masonic Temple in Los Angeles, and 
he had explained how he was invited to a dinner to learn 
about the Masons' plans for a new site. Subsequently, he 
thought about their needs for a number of weeks. Then, I 
assume, you got back in touch with Judge Meyer. 
SHEETS: No. As a matter of fact, I was very busy, and 
I suddenly realized that about four months had gone by. 
I thought perhaps I had frightened them away completely 
by asking them the twenty-five or more questions of why 
they thought they ought to build a temple. Then the 
phone rang and it was Judge Meyer, the head of the Scottish 
Rite. He said, "Well, we're ready to answer your questions." 
So we set up another dinner party, and it was an exciting 
evening. It was one of the really most exciting ones 
because they had done their homework. They had worked 
terribly hard on all of the questions and had, I thought, 
some imaginative answers. They were not in any way tying 
me or any other designer down, but they had some very good 
thoughts about the new relationship of Masonry to society 
and why they felt this was an important time to build the 
temple and why they wanted to truly represent the spirit 
of Masonry. 


So without further ado, I made many sketches, I 
think three different concepts, which I presented to a 
smaller committee that they had decided would be easier 
to operate with. I think there were four people--or 
five, counting Judge Meyer — on the committee. I made 
the presentation of these three different concepts, from 
which they selected one. It was the one that we finally 
followed, but it grew considerably in the development, 
as most of these kinds of things do, both in character 
and in detail. 

GOODWIN: What was their basic need? 

SHEETS: Well, I think I suggested to you that I was 
surprised by the tremendous number of things that had 
to be incorporated in this temple. First of all, the 
upper degrees of Masonry are given in an auditorium, 
and they are given in the form of plays. They have 
incredible costumes and magnificent productions of the 
basic concepts that are ethical and have at heart a 
religious depth, and they draw from many religions, as 
far as I understand. I'm not a Mason, but I do feel 
that it's a tremendous attempt toward the freedom of 
man as an individual, and the rights of man as an 
individual, and respect for various races and creeds. 
I won't say this is always obtained, but certainly 
that's been the spirit. They felt that they wanted to 
depict this in every form. That's the reason there's 


so much decoration involved in the temple. 

The huge mosaic on the exterior east end of the 
temple at that time was the largest mosaic I'd ever made. 
It starts out with the builders of the temple from the 
days of Jerusalem, and King Solomon, who built the temple, 
and Babylon. Then it jumps up to the Persian emperor, 
Zerubabel. When the crusaders went to the Holy Land, they 
built a place called Acre, which is still a very important 
historical monument to the period of the crusaders. Of 
course, there were other temples and I showed Rheims 
cathedral in the process of building. I showed the 
importance of [Giuseppe] Garibaldi, the Mason who broke 
away from the Roman Catholic church because of what he 
felt was its limitations and dogmatism. Ever since then, 
there's been a certain quarrel, I gather, between the 
Masons and the Catholics. Then there is King Edward VII 
in his Masonic regalia as one of the great grand masters. 
We had the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, 
which is part of the King Edward section. I think the 
final part of that mosaic shows the first grand master 
of California in his full regalia being invested in 
Sacramento. It's a kind of historical thing going way 
back to the ancient temple builders and coming right up 
through to actual California history, which the California 
sun at the top symbolizes. 
GOODWIN: Did they initially want a mosaic for the 


exterior or is that an idea you presented? 
SHEETS: It's an idea that 1 developed as part of the 
building, because they told me in the very beginning, 
in the answers to these questions that they felt that 
they wanted to symbolize, in the same spirit, that law 
and concepts of religion were involved in the great 
temples. Certainly the Gothic cathedrals were the book 
for the people who couldn't read. Well, they didn't 
think of the American people not being able to read, 
but they wanted to show graphically the intensity of 
feeling throughout history toward the neaning of Masonry, 
So naturally, when I had this as a problem, I wanted to 
do something very dramatic on the east end, because that 
is an extremely tall mural. I think it's about seventy 
feet tall (I can't remember exactly); it's sixty or 
seventy feet high, and it's about twenty feet wide at 

By the same token, the concept of the sculpture 
along the south facade, which I worked in collaboration 
with Albert Stewart to design, and then he made all of 
the models — it seems to me there were eighty scale 
models, which I took to Rome and had carved by a very 
fine sculptor in solid travertine. These were, of 
course, eventually sent back and placed on the facade. 
And here again are all of the temple builders, each one 
representing a special builder going back to ancient 


Egypt and coming on through the time of King Solomon and 
the Persian emperor, up to and including George Washington, 
There are also Albert Pike, who was one of the very great 
men in the early part of the twentieth century or latter 
part of the nineteenth century, and Christopher Wren, 
who built the great cathedrals in England. The two St. 
Johns were interesting, because they were said to be 
patron saints, and they depicted two different meanings 
entirely. Then there's the Gothic builder, so it 
symbolizes the whole meaning of the building of the 
temple . 

GOODWIN: How did you decide to work on such an enormous 
scale with those sculptures? 

SHEETS: I felt that Los Angeles didn't have anything 
like this and there should be something that people 
would look at with a little different view than a typical 
six-foot-tall fellow holding a Civil War sword in his 
hand on a pedestal in MacArthur Park. I felt if we 
could get some sense of bigness of spirit, it would be 
exciting. I felt also that it gave us an opportunity, 
carving these figures in actual stone, to make a very 
dramatic presentation. The double-headed eagle, which 
was the symbol for the Scottish Rite, Albert Stewart 
designed, and I think it makes a stunning logo. We used 
it in four spots on the temple. Then all of the inscrip- 
tions which we did were carved in travertine, and the 


different insignias of the degrees are all parts of the 
actual rites themselves. So it really makes a book to 
a pretty high degree on the outside. 

On the inside, there are several sculptured and 
mosaic decorations on the interior of the auditorium. 
There's a large mural depicting the history of Masonry 
in California, starting with the first houses which were 
erected by Masons. It's all involved, and I can't remember 
all the details. There's also a large mural in the main 
reading room off the main library, which was not symbolic. 
It was the kind of thing I liked to do , a very interesting 
mood of some ancient trees, and it's a totally different 
type of mural. Then I did murals in the dining room. 

The temple is like a city. It has a huge auditorium 
where they hold performances for the degree. Then there 
are four lodge rooms upstairs, where the various blue 
lodges meet to give the lower degrees. There is 
a recreational floor that has nothing but library 
facilities and pool tables and a combination of reading 
room and card room. There is a very fine library, which 
we had a lot of fun designing. There are, of course, the 
locker rooms and all of the other things that make it a 
tremendous, big building. It's four stories above ground 
and one below. There is a huge dining room on the top 
floor that seats 1,500 people, where you get an excellent 
view of the city. It's all under the overhang of that 


big roof that extends over the balcony areas . 
GOODWIN: I understand that the initiation fee for the 
Masons is very small, so what is the source of their 

SHEETS: Oh, that's a good question. I won't say they 
are a wealthy organization, but it's extraordinary the 
amount of money that members leave at their deaths or 
give during their lifetime to Masonry. They support, 
as you know, so many things, like the Shriners' Hospital 
The Shrine is another advanced degree area, but it is 
more on the social side. They put on the big East and 
West football games and the Shrine game, which support 
their children's hospitals. They have innumerable homes 
for children whose parents either die or desert them. 
They have not only children's hospitals but other kinds 
of hospitals. I believe almost all of their hospitals 
and their homes for children are nonsectarian. For 
instance, in San Francisco they support the magnificent 
Shrine Hospital for Children where it costs absolutely 
nothing to send a child, born with a severe handicap, 
there for countless operations. On the other hand, if 
a family is capable, has the money, they can contribute, 
but it's an astoundingly well run affair. Sue Hertel, 
who works for me, did a beautiful stained-glass window 
for the chapel in the Shrine Hospital. I had an oppor- 
tunity to see the hospital, and I couldn't believe the 


incredible things that they do there. It's one of the 
most disheartening things in the world to go through 
the hospital and see the numbers of children who are 
born with handicaps, but they are given the finest 
treatment there, and it's nearly all financed through 
the gifts of the people who believe in Masonry and its 
dedication to helping mankind. Many Masons leave very 
large amounts of money to such institutions . 
GOODWIN: How long were you involved with the building 
of the Los Angeles temple? 

SHEETS: I think from the time that I was first contacted 
until we finished the job, it would have been at least 
three to three and a half years. It took about two years 
to build the building. It took more than a year to plan 
it in the actual design stage. It took almost another 
year before that, while we talked about it. Including 
that six-month wait, I think it was almost four years. 

Then I did another Scottish Rite temple in San 
Francisco. I worked with an architect who was an old- 
time Mason and who had done the large temple for Masonry 
in San Francisco. It's called the Grand Lodge. It has 
a huge auditorium, where many affairs other than Masonry 
are held. I designed the building, and his office in San 
Francisco carried out the plans. That is similar to the 
Los Angeles temple, though perhaps simpler in some ways. 
We had a tremendous amount of decoration on the inside 


and a certain amount on the outside. There is a tremen- 
dous grill that had the great temple builders designed 
right into it, and we used insets of mosaics in the 
figures, which gives the grill a very exciting effect. 
The grills are probably 150 feet long, divided into two, 
with a space in between. It makes a very interesting 
approach to the building. You pass through this grill, 
then right into the actual building. But inside it's 
loaded again with a tremendous amount of decoration, all 
symbolical. It again has most of the same facilities 
that we have in Southern California. 

Then later I redesigned the interior of the main 
lobby of the Grand Lodge. They had become more and more 
interested in renting the lodge auditorium to various 
organizations, such as symphony orchestras, concerts, 
and plays, and it has become the largest auditorium for 
that kind of use in San Francisco. I had to redesign the 
stage so it could be a combination of the proper setting 
and staging for the lodge, and at the same time pliable 
and useful for the other affairs. That was exciting. 
We put all new seats in, all new everything, and designed 
a great many changes in the architecture itself. 
GOODWIN: The Masons sound like a fascinating client. 
SHEETS: Well, I found them to be. My only experience 
has been these three instances, but they know what they 
want, and they are perfectly fine to work with. They 


deal very directly. There's no bouncing around. I do 
admire what they do for society, because it's much more 
than a lodge. It's basically a thing that means a tre- 
mendous amount, I think, to an awful lot of people out- 
side of the Masons themselves. That kind of covers all 
I can think about in terms of the Masonic temple. 
GOODWIN: We've only mentioned some of the more obvious 
commissions Millard Sheets has done in architecture and 
mosaics and murals and so on. There are really too many 
to mention individually. But just to give an idea of 
the breadth of his activities, I want to mention also 
the topic of motion pictures. 

SHEETS: Well, I've had a great deal of fun, really, as 
well as done a lot of hard work with motion pictures. 
I've never been involved to the same degree as most people 
who become involved in motion pictures, but starting way 
back in the early thirties, I worked for MGM and for 
Universal Studios. I worked on such pictures as The 
Great Ziegfeld . I can't even remember the names of some 
of the others, but I designed special sets and made 
sketches for other designers, too, which were then trans- 
lated, of course, into sets. From my sketches they went 
into architectural drawings, then right on into the sets. 
Then later, in a series of pictures, I worked with William 
Dieterle, the director, and that meant traveling to Israel 
for an extended trip of more than two months, and there 


was a trip to Egypt which lasted about six weeks. We 
worked on all of the preliminary work and all of the 
background material. It was my job to serve not only 
as production designer, but to see to it that all of 
the extras were costumed for the huge scenes that occur 
in biblical pictures. In one instance, I think there 
were 10,000 people involved. I also had the difficult 
job at times of going to the cultural minister, for 
instance in Egypt, and showing him a preliminary script 
which had been written for Joseph and His Brethren . It 
certainly lacked everything that Thomas Mann had in his 
book on Joseph and His Brethren . I had to somehow reassure 
the minister of culture, who was extremely well read on 
the subject, about the picture, and I had to have him 
place faith in me and in William Dieterle to the extent 
that they were willing to loan us the areas where we 
wanted to work, because we worked in some of the most 
important areas in Egypt. The only thing he said in a 
sense of protecting himself was, "Well, chances are we'll 
never show these pictures in Egypt or any other Arabic 
country." However, we were given full permission to go 
everywhere we wanted, and we had some extraordinary 
experiences — it would take too long to enumerate — but 
up and down the length of the Nile, from Aswan to Cairo 
to all of the great areas, including Thebes. We worked 
very freely. I had to do the research and make the 


decisions as to where we were going to shoot, and it was 
very, very exciting. 

I found the same thing even more exciting in many 
ways in Israel because of the fact that I had not known 
as much, perhaps, theoretically about Israel as I had 
about Egypt. I think in the first three weeks that I 
was there, which was before any staff came, except the 
director, we covered — and I covered particularly — almost 
every inch of Israel that belonged to it then: down into 
the Negev desert, up to the high mountains, going up into 
Lebanon. In covering this with an Israeli colonel and 
driver, we crisscrossed every inch of the country. I'm 
sure that very few people in Israel itself have had the 
experience of covering that much territory. I really 
enjoyed it. I don't think that we produced the greatest 
pictures, but I certainly had a real thrill being involved. 
GOODWIN: On the subject of costume design, I think there's 
something you failed to mention. I understand that you 
did some designs for academic gowns at Scripps at one 

SHEETS: [laughter] That doesn't really amount to very 
much. The girls were very sick of the typical black gown 
and black cap. The colors of the college, which were two 
colors of green, had been selected long before; so I 
designed a graduation robe in those colors which have 
been used throughout all the years at Scripps. It was 


kind of pleasant to see that it could be done in good 

taste and simplicity and be dignified, but it was no 

tremendous thing. I enjoyed it. 

GOODWIN: Did you design banners to represent departments 

and colleges? 

SHEETS: There was a banner that already represented 

Scripps. It was designed by Lee Laurie, and it was 

really based upon the Lee Laurie sculpture. He made a 

relief sculpture of The Sower , a theme he used quite 

often, which is a woman walking in the field with a bag, 

sowing the symbolic wheat. We converted that into a 

banner and used the colors, and it was very handsome, 

but the original design was Lee Laurie. 

GOODWIN: I think you mentioned that you also designed 

the official seal of Los Angeles County? 

SHEETS: Yeah, I did, and that was an experience. Did 

I tell you about that? 

GOODWIN: No. I'm putting your work in heraldry in one 

area . 

SHEETS: I was working of course as the director of the 

County Art Institute [Otis] at that time, and that's the 

reason I was asked to do it. The Board of Supervisors 

were unhappy about what they had in the way of a kind of 

map of the county. One supervisor, Hahn, called it "a 

pan of fried eggs," which was not exactly a very good 

description. Anyway, they asked me to do it. I, in turn. 


said, "What do you want to symbolize? I have some ideas 
about Los Angeles County, but you're the supervisors, and 
you have all sorts of authorities at your fingertips. 
What do you want symbolized?" I couldn't get one single 
suggestion, not one single suggestion, from any one of 
the supervisors. So I went ahead and made a very finished 
drawing, which was in color, of what I thought might make 
an interesting seal. I did it in an extremely simple way 
so it would read well in the distance and so it wouldn't 
look like a fried egg to Supervisor Hahn. Well, of course, 
the minute that I showed them the seal, they started sug- 
gesting all sorts of themes that might be added or one or 
two which might be eliminated. I said, "Well, that's 
fine. At least this is a kickoff." But they liked the 
arrangement of the seal: a simple cross form. They said, 
"It's just a matter of what we put in there." So I said, 
"All right, now have a huddle, and get your experts to- 
gether and then tell me what you want added or taken out." 
And they did . 

Well, at the time I was very involved with my own 
work in addition to directing the institute, and I had a 
young man working for me who was extremely credible. He 
wasn't always an articulate draftsman, but he was very 
good in many things that he was doing for me. So when 
they finally gave me the symbols that they wanted used, 
and the one they wanted for the diary industry was a cow. 


So I said to this young fellow, "Look, here's my layout. 
Doodle in a cow, and doodle in these changes that we're 
making," which he did. We didn't even make it in color. 
It was very, very rough. 

I took the design into the Board of Supervisors and 
left it with John Anson Ford, who was the chairman. I 
explained to John that this was strictly a preliminary 
rough sketch, and it was not meant as the final drawing. 
I didn't want to go ahead and go through the agonizing 
business or making another long-winded, finished drawing 
or finished painting, then have them tell me they wanted 
to change some ideas again. So it was presented on that 
basis, and Hahn, who is such a nincompoop as far as I'm 
concerned anyway, immediately attacked the drawing of this 
cow. And in nothing flat all of the reporters in the 
area, the Times and Examiner and the radio and everyone 
else, picked this up as a tremendous thing that the 
director of the art institute couldn't draw a cow. Hahn 
made a great speech about the fact that he thought it 
was pretty sad when the director of the institute couldn't 
draw a cow. So it came out over the radio and in the 
papers and everything else, and of course it made me very 
angry. I did have the satisfaction of telling Mr. Hahn 
what I thought of him as a person as well as what I thought 
of his intelligence. But in the meantime, they approved 
every one of the ideas, and I made a finished drawing. 


Well, by the time that drawing went through the 
routine of the cryptographers, or whatever they call the 
people in the county who translated the design into 
everything from silk screens to emblems for the cars, 
and all the other uses for the seal — I must say it lost 
some of its original drawing. But I think the overall 
effect is good. 

GOODWIN: Let's mention your work for the United States 
Air Force in Japan and Formosa. This was about 1958? 
SHEETS: It's down there. [referring to notes] 
GOODWIN: Yes, 1958. 

SHEETS: It was the period when the Red Chinese from the 
mainland were bombing and dive bombing the islands of 
Quemoy and Matsu. It was a very dramatic moment in 
world peace, if we can call it world peace at that time, 
and the United States was very much involved. They sent 
a great deal of material to Formosa. They sent planes; 
they sent a lot of mechanical equipment and even a large 
force of mechanics to take care of the planes. We did 
no flying against the Red Chinese, but we kept those 
airplanes going, and we gave them, at that time, one of 
our best planes. They were extremely fast, and they 
were flown expertly by the Chinese flyers. 

Well, the air force asked me, as they've asked many 
artists to go on similar jaunts, to go to Formosa and 
work at the bases and document as well as I could what 


was going on. I did fly toward the islands. I never 
was close enough to be really involved with any actual 
fighting, but this fighting was going on, sometimes 
three and four times in twenty-four hours, day and night. 
The Chinese flyers would fly across from Taiwan when the 
word came that they were about to have another raid. 
Whereas the Red Chinese only had to fly something like 
eleven minutes from their mainland over to the islands, 
it took about forty minutes for the Free Chinese to go 
over. But they had this thing down to a pretty excellent 
timing proposition with their systems of warning and so 
on. The Free Chinese air force was really getting the 
best of it most of the time. But like so many wars, like 
our war in Korea and also, actually, in Vietnam, the Free 
Chinese themselves were not allowed to cross the line 
over China. Although a few planes were shot down, I'm 
sure , over the edge , the attempt was to keep away from 
the mainland itself and not cross the shoreline. But it 
was dramatic and it was very exciting to be in the midst 
of what was a war, although I was on the sidelines. I 
certainly enjoyed the whole experience. 
GOODWIN: Did you do mostly watercolors? 
SHEETS: Yes. I always work in watercolor and drawings 
when I make trips of that kind. It's so easy to carry. 
GOODWIN: About how much work did you produce? 
SHEETS: Oh, I think — if I remember correctly — I gave 


the air force approximately six or seven paintings when 
I came back, finished paintings, which are in their 
archives. They have a very large collection now of 
paintings done by, oh, I would guess perhaps fifty or 
sixty artists from the United States in different combat 
zones. Of course a lot of it is in peacetime, too. It's 
not all war — fighting. But it's a very large collection, 
and some very, very good artists have gone. 

You go, if you're invited to go, with the rank of a 
colonel. The only embarrassing part of that whole trip 
was that every time we got on an airplane, starting out 
here in Sacramento, I went to sleep in the officers' 
waiting room, because the plane was always a little late 
taking off. They would suddenly waken me and say, "You 
have to get on board before anybody can go on board, 
including even the pilots." Well, I was very embarrassed, 
but that happened a half a dozen times. I didn't go to 
sleep — I don't mean that — but every time we got ready 
to go on the plane, everybody stood and waited for me 
to go on board. I felt like a fool, but that was the 
procedure . 

GOODWIN: In 1960 and '61, you were a lecturer for the 
State Department in Turkey and Russia. 

SHEETS: What they really called those programs was the 
American Specialist Program. Unlike an ordinary cultural 
exchange, which many people have gone on, we had a program 


where we exchanged similar people, people who had the 
same kind of activities. I was involved, of course, in 
education; I was involved in architecture; I was involved 
in painting and to a degree in planning and that kind of 
thing. So it was always very exciting because each time 
I went it gave me a great deal more choice and leeway as 
to where I wanted to go and to the people we met. 

The trip to Turkey was fabulous. The State Department 
was not willing, in any way, to consider sending ray wife 
with me, but I felt that partly because I traveled so 
much without her during the days when our children were 
young and also because if we went as a married couple 
we would have access to many experiences that I couldn't 
have as a single person. It was absolutely borne out in 
both experiences. Because of Mary being with me, we were 
able to go in and out of homes, meet many more people, 
and have many experiences I know I never would have had 
if I had been alone. In addition to that, she's marvelous 
with people, and I think she gave a very great deal of 
credit to our country by her spirit of wanting to know 
about and to get acquainted with people and to being 
sensitive to so many things in their lives, with women 
as well as with men. I know it was extremely important. 

Well, we arrived in Turkey, in a very cold winter. 
I spent several days in Istanbul, where I lectured. Then 
I met and had discussions with people in the universities 


on problems both in architecture and in painting. 
GOODWIN: Did you give any demonstrations? 

SHEETS: Yes, I gave at least two or three demonstrations, 
I think, on that trip. In both instances, they wanted me 
to paint. I didn't really do much painting in Turkey — I 
did some. But the time was so confusing, and it was in 
such a terrible part of the winter that I wasn't really 
well organized. 

We went from Istanbul to the first capital of ancient 
Turkey, Edirne, which is in the very far northwest corner 
of Turkey, where Bulgaria and Greece come together, and 
it is fantastic. I gave lectures there, and we saw some 
of the ancient buildings. 

One of the most interesting ones was a huge building 
for the treating of the mentally disordered. Way back in 
the twelfth century or even earlier, this whole building 
was designed to aid in the treatment of the patients. 
Water was used as one of the most important parts of 
the therapy. There were many ways that they had water 
dripping and water running and spouting in little foun- 
tains. The doctors maintained that it had a tremendous 
influence upon the mental attitude of the people they 
were treating. It was really a magnificent building. 
It had not only the main open areas, but it had beautiful 
courts, and the rooms themselves seemed to have been 
pretty beautifully thought out. So it was fun to see 


that even that early that thought was given to the mental 
problems to the degree that it was. 

Then from Edirne we went back to Istanbul and spent 
more time there. Then we went up to Ankara, the capital 
of Turkey, in Anatolia, the Asian part of the country, 
and it was bitter cold. It was right in the dead of 
winter, below zero a good part of the time, snow all 
over the ground. We met with State Department people 
and other Americans who were there on various assignments , 
as well as with a number of fascinating Turkish groups. 
We saw the great Hittite museum and other places of 
interest, and then we took off. 

I had a driver come up from Istanbul at my expense, 
and we drove almost 3,000 miles. We went to Bursa, to 
Kayseri, and we went to Goreme , where the early Cappadocian 
Christians carved out and painted their churches in the 
great conical mounds that rose above the barren earth 
like enormous anthills, some as high as 200 feet. These 
huge stone mounds were carved into not only living areas, 
but chapels and refectories. It was one of the most 
beautiful and exciting places I've ever been. A stark 
lunar landscape. Then we drove on through the whole of 
upper Anatolia to a fascinating Kurd village and to 
many small towns. It was bitterly cold and deep in snow. 
We were told that there were wolves everywhere, which 
scared our driver nearly to death. Parts of the country 


were really wild and the peasants, in their poor villages, 
looked as miserable as people could be. We drove through 
the rugged mountains and then dropped down into blossoming 
orange groves and fruit orchards where spring was bursting 
forth, into a totally different world. We came out at 
Adana at the eastern end of the Mediterranean. I lectured 
there, then we started on a trip that we were advised not 
to take because the road wasn't completed. We drove the 
full length of the Turkish coast of the Mediterranean 
Sea. And other than for twenty-seven blowouts and some 
incredible experiences, we had an exciting, beautiful 
trip. We saw ancient Roman ruins, theaters, and fortresses, 
and dramatic crusaders' castles, some rising out of the 
sea. We came to one city, Antalya, where the Romans 
built many of their warships. They had planted cypress 
trees all over Yugoslavia and parts of Turkey, and these 
were used not only as mastheads but as construction 
material for the fighting boats. There were two huge 
caves in this town, which they used as protection from 
the weather to do a lot of their work. They had a very 
beautiful sort of a quai built out, along which they 
could moor their vessels. It was an amazing place. We 
had taken a Turkish interpreter, Nilglil Matters, with 
us. She was a brilliant, young woman who understood 
and spoke English extremely well. She had been educated 
in the United States and had married an American, Bob, 


who had come back with her to Turkey to teach, and they 
had two children. She became my interpreter, and she 
was excellent. On this particular trip we included her 
husband. We had been without any kind of decent housing 
or food or anything else for several days, and we looked 
forward to this particular town, Antalya, with great 
excitement, because we were told that there was a good 
hotel and food that was reasonably edible. We arrived 
in the town at ten o'clock at night, after I don't know 
how many flat tires that day, to find that it was the 
one night of the year when they had a great vaudeville 
show in the town auditorium. 

All the people who could came from far and near to 
see the show, and they had taken every single bit of 
lodging. After going to the police station, we found 
that there was nothing whatsoever to be had unless we 
could get to the mayor, who was sitting up on a little 
ledge in the middle of the auditorium. All of us, and 
our gals particularly, were just worn out and we had to 
find rooms. So Bob and I finally went to the theater, 
and climbed a ladder up in the middle of all the people 
to this little balcony and, with another interpreter, 
explained our situation to the mayor . He clapped his 
hands, the show stopped, and he shouted down to a man 
who ran a restaurant, if you could call it that. He 
said, "Go to your restaurant now and take care of these 


people. You stay at the restaurant; then, when the 
show is over, my wife and I and some other people will 
pick you up, and we'll see that you're taken care of." 
Well, it was fantastic. At the restaurant, all that was 
left after the big feed before the show, that we dared 
to eat, were a few hard-boiled eggs and some oranges. 
The rest of the leavings were just out of the question. 

Well, sure enough, after the show, they came and 
picked us up, and my wife and I spent the night in the 
mayor's home, and the other couple spent the night with 
someone else high in their official life. In both cases, 
we know that they gave us their own bed, and they slept 
on the floor, which is real hospitality. We couldn't do 
a thing about their giving up their beds; they were so 
gracious and so positive about it. 

Next morning we had breakfast and went down to see 
the hospital, which they were very proud of. We spent 
about two hours going through the hospital, which was 
extremely far ahead for its time and place. Then we 
toured some areas where there were ancient fortresses. 
We climbed the top of this high mountain and explored 
the town. When we were all set to leave, we were still 
concerned because we had no spare tire, and it was a 
long way to where we wanted to go to our next stop at 
the western end of this Mediterranean coast. We tried 
every place to buy tires but there were just none 


available, not even retreads. The man at the hospital 
said, "Well, now, I think it's not safe for you to go 
without a spare, so we're going to send a jeep with a 
couple of people along to follow you and see to it that 
you get there safely." There was no way that we could 
pay graciously for all of this hospitality without 
insulting our hosts. We had no goods to give as gifts. 
Finally our interpreter, Nil, said, "Well, I think 
the best thing to do is to make a gift to the hospital." 
So I went with her over to the hospital again and met 
the director and told him how much we appreciated every- 
thing. I said, "Just to show our appreciation, we'd like 
to make a gift." I had in mind something like fifty 
dollars — I don't remember exactly, but fifty dollars was 
a great deal of money in Turkey in those days. Being 
just in the middle of that period where I didn't see 
too well without my glasses, I gave him a bank note, 
which I thought was about fifty dollars, and we left. 
When we were leaving, he was very excited, and he wanted 
me to have a receipt. After much talk and much waiting 
Nil came running up with this receipt, which I put in my 
wallet, and we left. She said, "Do you have any idea 
what you gave him?" I said, "I think it was about fifty 
dollars, wasn't it?" Well, I can't remember, but it was 
more like $250. I hadn't meant to be so extravagant, 
but on the other hand, I certainly wasn't too unhappy 


about it. Well, this just shows you sometimes that 
there's something else operating outside of yourself, 
We left the town, and the jeep followed us. 


JANUARY 16, 1977 

SHEETS: We left about one o'clock or one-thirty, and 
at four o'clock that afternoon, a band of wild wolves 
that were infected with rabies just simply ran through 
the town biting right and left. I don't know how many 
people were bitten, but the exciting thing about that 
funny little gift is the fact that it was that 
much money allowed them to buy enough serum to take 
care of the whole problem for the town. It just seemed 
to be fated and we've been very grateful that it happened 

that way. 

Well, we saw absolutely magnificent Roman ruins and 
beautiful cities along the way, many of them in semiruin. 
As we were driving up towards Izmir, we saw the most 
exciting processions of camels in the brightest regalia, 
with all sorts of people on foot and people with various 
musical instruments and whatnot going along the road all 
headed toward one direction. We finally came to a small 
town where there was a complete festival, put on by the 
mosque as a money-raising event. We found that there 
was a camel wrestling contest going on, a sport we'd 
never heard of before. These camels are incredible in 
the way they actually wrestle. The owners get them into 
a very high state of excitement with wild music on drums 


and horns and by having a she-camel in heat tethered 
nearby, and then they lead two males into the middle of 
the field where they try to throw one another by forcing 
the head down with blows from their snakelike necks. 
They fight in full regalia, and it was a tremendously 
exciting experience. We stopped to explore Ephesus, 
then we went on to Izmir for several days of talks and 
meetings, and then finally we drove back up through the 
most famous parts of Turkey to Istanbul for a few more 
days, and that was the end of a fabulous adventure. 
GOODWIN : How long were you in Turkey? 
SHEETS: A little more than two months. 

Then the other trip, which was to Russia, was a 
tremendous experience. We were there, again, in the 
dead of winter. We arrived in November and left two 
days before Christmas. I had the same experience, first 
of all, of taking my wife, at my expense, which was the 
smartest thing I could have done. Even more than in 
Turkey, doors opened that never would have opened in 

We were briefed in Washington by the State Department 
for almost a week, and I have never had as much misinfor- 
mation given me in my life. I can understand now, I 
think, why I was misinformed. I think that the State 
Department, as it operates in Russia, and the people in 
the news services are tremendously handicapped and held 


down. Entrapment is always on their mind and every 
other kind of pressure. They know everything is bugged. 
Being a guest of the Russian government, we did not have 
this experience, and they allowed us freedom that very 
few people have. There were only ten people a year at 
that time that were being exchanged. I believe also that 
the particular thaw, just after Khrushchev had denounced 
Stalin and not too long before Khrushchev was overthrown, 
made it a perfect time to be in Russia. I was told that 
we'd never be allowed to go where we wanted to go. We 
would never go into people's homes. We'd never see the 
same person more than twice. It would just be set up so 
we wouldn't get really acquainted with anyone, and they 
said I'd never be able to give a lecture. 

I took about 800 slides with me, hoping that I could 
give a talk, maybe with 40 or 50 slides on American 
architecture and 40 or 50 on the history of American 
painting. I had a lot of slide groups like that, in 
addition to a fairly complete resume of my own painting 
and of a lot of the murals in the buildings we were 
working on, and then the two different houses we lived 
in — the one up on the coast and the one we still had 
down in Southern California at that time. I thought 
these would be fun to show. Well, they said, "You'll 
never get a chance." I had a little Japanese projector 
that you could collapse down into a small, about 4x6, 


box. I could take that thing with a 3 5 -millimeter 
Kodachrome slide and throw it up ten or twelve feet 
square. It had a great deal of power in the lens. 
I took the different gadgets you have to have to change 
the different currents, so we were all set. But the 
State Department said, "No way. You won't be able to 
do it. But," they said, "when the official asks you 
where you want to go, take a big, deep breath and just 
rattle off all the places, hoping he'll give you a few." 

Well, when I did this, the man stopped me in a very 
quiet, smiling way and said, "Well, Mr. Sheets, how long 
were you going to be here?" We told him. He said, "Well, 
if you extend that three months, which we'd be glad to 
have you do, you can go to all these places, but in the 
meantime, where do you want to go?" So we told him where 
we wanted to go, including central Asia, and we went to 
all of those places. In that sense we were shocked right 
off the bat, right at the start. 

Then we noticed that wherever we were set up in 
hotels, we were given very special treatment. We didn't 
live in any of the typical hotels for the Intourist. 
We had a fantastic, wonderful woman, Lydia Moroshkina, 
who served not only as our guide and interpreter but 
became a great friend of ours. She was a woman who 
didn't work primarily as an interpreter. She translated 
British and American plays and books into Russian theater 


and motion picture, so she understood our idioms. She 
didn't speak English as well as she might, but she 
understood everything about our language and could 
translate our same idiom into the Russian idiom. So 
right from the beginning, we felt comfortable with her. 
We stayed in these very nice hotels, the Sovietskaya in 
Moscow and the Astoria in Leningrad, where they had it 
arranged so that I had a big room to work in, in addition 
to a sitting room and bathroom and bedroom. 

Then they kept pushing the idea that I should paint. 
Well, from the beginning, I started to paint. Being in 
the middle of the winter, it was beautiful: all deep in 
snow. Red Square and out at Zagorsk, which is a great 
religious center, the only one left in Russia, I guess, 
where they train men for the clergy. It's an ancient, 
beautiful place, and the drive out there from Moscow was 
absolutely magnificent. 

We went into dozens of artists' studios. I spoke 
the first time at the Moscow artists' union, which is 
not like our American unions; it is more like a guild. 
I was asked to speak there, and after that first time I 
met some of these artists. From there on we were just 
constantly being asked to give talks and slide shows, 
and I think I gave seventeen lectures all over the Soviet 
Union: in Armenia and central Asia, Moscow and Leningrad. 

The people were so hungry to learn anything they 


could about this country from people who actually lived 
there, that when they found out about the slides, my 
problem each time was they wanted to look at the whole 
800. They didn't care about looking at a handful. If 
I lectured for, say, two hours with my interpreter — 
which, of course, is a slow job by the time you take 
time to interpret and show all these slides — they would 
ask questions for three or four hours. Then we'd end 
up going from the lecture to the most exciting homes. 
We would be met there by a dozen or two dozen people, 
with unusual food and drink, which they had made a 
tremendous effort to have. Then they would show me 
some of the works that they were doing. Some of them 
were working on very large murallike panels. Lots of 
them were just painting straight easel paintings. I 
was surprised and pleased to discover that a great many 
of them had very fine recording instruments, and they 
were recording, from the BBC broadcasts and from the 
American broadcasts, all of our best modern music. Not 
only that, they had libraries of the most up-to-date 
contemporary art of the world. They had books on prac- 
tically every major artist of the last century. They 
were very much aware, even though they were being 
prohibited to do any of these things by their govern- 
ment, of what was being done outside. They were painting 
and not showing. They were hiding these things. I saw 


a tremendous number of the paintings that they wouldn't 
dare show to the public, but they did have enough con- 
fidence in me to show them to me. 

We were in Leningrad and then again in Moscow and 
then down to a country that I hadn't really thought 
would be that exciting; but I think that Yerevan, the 
capital of Armenia, is a fascinating area, and the 
people are marvelous. I met the most interesting 
painters there. We were through and in and out of the 
great museums, as we had been in Leningrad, where I had 
days in the great museum, the Hermitage. Behind the 
scenes, we could do anything we wanted. We saw every- 
thing. They were extremely good about it. We were in 
Armenia, I think, about ten days, and then we flew from 
there to Uzbekistan where we visited Tashkent and 
Samarkand . 

The whole experience was thrilling, I think mostly 
because we were able to bring to these people — and we 
met all facets of life in Russia and these other areas — 
the fact that as Americans we were not warmongers, we 
were not out to destroy them, which their papers told 
them every day we were going to try to do. We had some 
incredible arguments and marvelous conversations, very 
openly. We didn't hide anything. If they asked me even 
what I thought of Khrushchev, I told them. These were 
not always easy things to do. Right in the middle of a 


talk in Leningrad someone said, "What do you think of 
Khrushchev?" I answered exactly what I thought. I 
said, "I think that he must be a very important person 
in your life, and he certainly seems to have had a 
tremendous influence and to have done a great deal of 
good in your country. But as a world diplomat, I don't 
think that he's been the right man to send to the United 
Nations, when he gets up and pounds the rostrum with his 
shoe." They laughed, and it was all done very easily. 

When we left Russia, a woman official whom we'd 
met at almost the beginning of the trip, who had been 
very anti-American and anti-us in particular, not only 
turned around completely, but she insisted upon taking 
us to the airport in order to get us through customs 
very easily. She said that we were unlike so many 
Americans and British who come to Russia. They smile 
and say nice things but go home and write dirty articles. 
She said, "You've said everything the way you felt it, 
and we will welcome you back at any time in the future." 
So we felt really pleased. I said, "Well, have you heard 
all the things that I've said?" She said, "I know every- 
thing that you said." So I guess they had a pretty good 
record of it. 

But we were in and out of homes. We were in every 
kind of art situation. I admire a great many things 
about the dedication and the feeling of these people 


about their country. Most of the people who are against 
communism have, of course, been eliminated, so they 
don't have a very strong group against them. They're 
very critical, some of them, of many things about their 
government and about their system, but they still believe 
that it's going to be fine because when the bureaucrats 
who are uneducated die off, they will be replaced by the 
enlightened bureaucrats and leaders. It's always only 
five years down the road. Well, of course it is never 
going to be that way. I must say they're so much like 
a cross section of Americans. They're very dynamic; 
they're extremely, extremely friendly, very hospitable, 
very gay and full of excitement about things. The only 
thing I really don't like is their government. I think 
the people are just as wonderful as their government is 
lousy, and they said the same thing about us. But we 
were given a fantastically beautiful trip, and I'm very 
grateful that I had Mary with me, because not only did 
she get to feel the experience and have the experience, 
but she opened up so many doors. No question about it. 
GOODWIN: When you returned to this country, did you 
lecture about your trips both to the Soviet Union and 

SHEETS: Yes, I did, and a lot of my closest friends 
thought that I had really turned pink. To come back 
and say things enthusiastically about a nation that 


everybody's been talking about as your enemy seems to 
distract a lot of people, and it seems to upset a lot 
of people. I was even shocked at the colleges where I 
had been teaching for so long and other places where I 
was asked to speak. I must have spoken thirty or forty 
times, in every kind of situation, when I came back. 

On our return, we stopped in Washington for a 
debriefing, and I made a great many people very unhappy 
about the things that I told them: first about my 
briefing and how wrong it was, and second that I felt 
that there was so much good to be done in this program 
if they particularly would have people take their wives 
with them. Anyway, we came back, and to my surprise, 
about two months later, I was asked to come back to 
Washington and speak to all the members in the State 
Department — which really was a surprise — in a very large 
auditorium, probably about 2,500 people. On top of that, 
later again, I was asked to come back and speak to the 
board that operated that whole program. They gave me 
three hours one morning of their regular board meeting 
to discuss all of the ideas that I had about their 
program. There were State Department people standing 
around the wall looking very unhappy. That's the way 
democracy does work sometimes. It's awkward, and some- 
times it isn't easy, because both of those experiences 
were very difficult in many ways. But I think that the 


reality of our experience in Russia was something that 
wasn't average. 

Of course, we ran into some very bitter things. For 
example, every time we were taken to an airport, we were 
given the VIP treatment and put in a special waiting room. 
We quickly discovered that in these waiting rooms there 
were newspapers, and there was a newspaper that seemed to 
be printed in English, Italian, French, and German as well 
as Russian. It was called the Moscow News . We quickly 
discovered that this was a digest of all the editorials 
and major stories of all the Soviet news. After we read 
the first one or two in English, I remember Mary became 
so indignant I thought she was going to hit someone. 
She said that this was the dirtiest bunch of stuff she'd 
ever read. It was so anti-American. It was so bitterly 
anti-free world and so full of flagrant lies and, of 
course, the United States was the center of the blame. 
From then on we collected these wherever we went. We 
gathered them up, and they were very valuable to me when 
I came back in part of my talk to show how their people 
are being propagandized. To a certain degree, I felt 
that our people were being propagandized too. And I 
still think we are. 

When we were in Armenia, I had reached the point 
where I felt we had to cut down on the bulk of newsprint, 
so I spent part of the afternoon cutting out parts of the 


things that I wanted to keep, and left the rest of it, 
because it looked kind of funny for me to be carrying 
all these newspapers around. Anyway, I didn't know who 
was going to open my briefcase. What possessed me I 
don't know, but I put a paper clip on about fifteen or 
twenty of these articles, and I put them in my coat 
pocket. I don't know yet why I did it. That night we 
went to a beautiful dinner party. The artist guild 
first had invited me to a stag party the night before 
we were to leave Armenia. They were so hospitable, and 
they said that they wanted to give me a party. So I 
said, "Number one, I must have an interpreter, and number 
two, my wife is with me and I don't really want to go to 
a party where I can't take her." So I guess it's one of 
the first parties where they ever broke down and allowed 
two women to come. In any case, it was a beautiful 
party, except it started out with a lot of very heavy, 
hard-liquor drinking and a long, long, long, long, long 
dinner, probably three hours of various courses coming 
along with wines. Well, eventually, after something like 
five or six hours, the man who was obviously the head 
commissar--the head of all the museums and the head of 
everything that had to do with art, a very powerful 
political man-, a devout Communist, of course, who 
right opposite me at this long table) — arose. He didn't 
even wait for people to be quiet. I mean, he didn't 


make any attempt to stop them. He just waited. It took 
that whole group about ten minutes to simmer down. In 
other words, he didn't do a Rotary Club thing and bang 
a glass or something. He just stood there smiling. 
Finally, when it did simmer down, he picked up a glass, 
about the size of a real water tumbler, and he poured it 
full of straight, unadulterated, high-powered vodka. He 
held it up to everybody, and then he set it down. Then 
he made one of the most beautiful talks about how much 
they enjoyed having us there, and how we had been the 
first Americans who had come since Rockwell Kent came 
in like 1925, and how they welcomed the thought that 
when we went back to the United States we would really 
encourage people from our country to come to Armenia. 
They had gotten a very different feeling about Americans 
because of us, and we, of course, had made very clear to 
them how much we had enjoyed them during our stay. It 
was a beautiful talk. Finally he finished, and then 
with a flourish he picks his glass up and he goes, 
"Glug, glug, glug, glug." He takes that whole thing 
down. Well, it would have killed an ordinary horse. 
He set it down, and then he sat down. 

Well, I knew I had to answer eventually, so I waited 
about three of four minutes. I got up and I followed the 
same procedure, except I quickly went "Glug, glug," and 
set the bottle down and made my talk. I told them how 


great we felt about our whole experience in the Soviet 
Union and Armenia in particular, and all the things that 
we would say when we got back about our feeling about 
their people. I sat down, and there was as much clapping 
as there had been before. I thought, "Well now, in about 
a minute, we can go to bed" — because we were going to 
catch a plane at about five o'clock in the morning. 

Well, another ten minutes went by, and then finally 
a man way down at the end of the table gets up, and he 
makes another speech. Then I make another little speech. 
Each time I'm pouring one drop while they're pouring these 
big glugs. About ten or twelve speeches later, I knew I 
wasn't going to make another one. There was just no way 
I could do it. I had too much to drink, too much to eat, 
and I was too tired. So when I got up about the eleventh 
time to answer a toast, I picked up my glass, and I set 
it down. I didn't pour anything in it. I had our per- 
fectly marvelous interpreter, who didn't mince a word. 
I said, "Gentlemen, this time I'm not going to make a 
toast. I'm going to ask a question. We've been here 
now for five or so weeks, and you know from what has 
been exchanged here tonight our feeling about you people 
and the people we've met in Russia and the people we 
expect to meet where we're going. You know that it's 
sincere, as I know that the things that you have said 
are sincere. I don't question them at all. But," I 


said, "how can you reconcile the things that have been 
said here tonight with this incredible package of stuff 
that I've cut out of the Moscow News ?" I pulled this 
all out of my pocket. I just felt it, I guess, is what 
I had to do. I said, "Here is just nothing but sheer 
hatred against my country, and I've selected some of the 
meanest, some of the most obviously untrue material I 
could find. Now, you read these, I'm sure, in Russian 
or Armenian or whatever language you read in, but I 
can't myself reconcile what's happened here tonight and 
what I read. Now, can you?" And I just remained 
standing . 

There was about three minutes of dull silence, and 
finally this head guy right across the table stood up 
slowly, and he said, "Mr. Sheets, I don't wonder why 
you ask this question." He said, "Mr. Sheets, all I 
can tell you is that we know we are being propagandized, 
but we don't know how much we are being propagandized. 
This is our problem, because we have no way of judging 
it, except when people like yourself and Mrs. Sheets 
come here. These are the only experiences that give 
us a key to how much we're being propagandized. Please 
accept this as an explanation, and please do not let it 
in any way infect your feeling about us as people." Wellj 
I thought it took more courage on the part of that man to 
do that than probably most people realized. Although I'm 


sure he couldn't have said it in Russia, I think even 
there it was a dangerous thing to say in public. 

But I do think that this is the kind of good that 
comes from this kind of an exchange. They begged me to 
encourage people to come to Armenia, and not to just 
complain about the bathrooms and food but to exchange 
ideas. Yet the government makes that very difficult to 
do. So it isn't entirely a matter of the tourist not 
wishing to do this. It's a matter of the opportunity 
to do it, and I think this is part of our great problem 
today in the world: to somehow get to people, where we 
have these frightening differences, and to try and get 
through. I really think it was a terribly important 
thing to have done, and I'm grateful for the opportunity 
and that I had a chance to do it. 

GOODWIN: I understand, to shift to another subject, 
that you've been active in Republican party politics. 
SHEETS: Not really. At one time I agreed to be a dele- 
gate to the Republican party [convention] , and at that 
time the man that I had agreed to be a delegate for was 
not given the nomination, so I never became a delegate. 
As a matter of fact, it was the time that Nelson 
Rockefeller ran against the man who had the greatest 
loss of any Republican, from Phoenix, from Arizona. 
GOODWIN: Oh, Goldwater. 
SHEETS: Goldwater. It was 1964, the year that Goldwater 


won the nomination over Rockefeller. So I never really 
was a delegate. 

GOODWIN: You were supporting Rockefeller? 
SHEETS: I was supporting Rockefeller. Not because of 
any tremendous, great depth of feeling, but I felt that 
being a more liberal person, I could support him more 
than I could Goldwater. Maybe it was the wrong choice. 
The country decided it wasn't the wrong choice, but in 
any case that was what happened. I've never been active. 
I 've never given great amounts of money at any time to 
the Republican party. I've voted probably for more 
Democratic candidates than I've voted for Republican 
candidates over the years that I've voted all of my 
life, because I vote for the man. But I do have con- 
victions about some of the basic ideas about conservatism 
in economics that I believe are the only sensible ways to 
run an operation. Yet I certainly believe in the social 
convictions that the Democrats have appeared to stand 
for more often. I think the Republicans have very often 
stood for these things but haven't been very adroit at 
presenting their own position without sounding like "me 
too." I don't think any of these politicians have 
really hit the center somewhere, which they should. 
GOODWIN: Let's now discuss the Virginia Steele Scott 
Foundation, of which you're a trustee. 
SHEETS: Well, that's a very real responsibility and 


something I have become thoroughly involved with since 
the death of Mrs. Scott. My wife and I have been friends 
of Virginia Scott for thirty-five or more years, with her 
and her husband. As you probably know, she had a very 
serious cancer operation about eighteen years ago, from 
which she had a difficult time recovering her whole sense 
of where she was. They operated on the roof of her mouth, 
and she became almost inarticulate. She could not talk 
easily. Unfortunately, being a very sensitive person, 
she literally locked herself in a shell. She wouldn't go 
out to see people. All of us who had been very close 
friends were just simply locked out of her existence. 
Tragically, it eventually separated her from her husband. 
He evidently felt he couldn't live in that situation any 
longer, and they were separated and divorced. Then after 
a long illness, and difficulties because of many problems 
which I won't go into, she recovered to the degree that 
she became tremendously involved again in collecting and 
in being interested in supporting art. 

For years before her illness she had wanted to get 
a new museum built in Pasadena. So when she regained her 
health and she had taken enough therapy so she could speak 
well enough to be comfortable, she and her mother were 
the first people who gave the money toward the new Pasadena 
Museum [of Modern Art] . They gave the first million and 
a half dollars, which made it very much easier to get 


the rest of the money, as is always the case. After a 
while she realized that the people who had really taken 
over the reins of the museum — and I mean by that the 
local people who not only were pushing a certain area of 
art but had real control of it through their board of 
governors — she felt that they weren't headed at all in 
the direction that she had always been interested in for 
a museum. As you know, they made it into the Pasadena 
Museum of Modern Art, which they ran for not quite four 
years until it became bankrupt. 

Well, it was during that period that she simply 
turned her back on the museum and decided to build her 
own gallery. She made the mistake of building this 
gallery in the middle of a private residential area and 
on a private street. Well, the gallery is a beautiful 
gallery. It was designed by Thornton Ladd and Associates 
with her as the guiding spirit, and most of it is under- 
ground. You enter the gallery from an elevator in the 
library of her home next door. It goes down, and then 
you go through a series of some twelve or thirteen 
galleries and come up into an atrium that is two stories 
high. It goes right up above the ground, with a lovely- 
looking house built at ground level over the lower gal- 
leries, which provides more gallery space and living 
quarters. It's a beautiful, beautiful gallery. It's 
on about four acres of land beautifully situated on the 


knoll of a hill. There is lovely landscaping. 

While she was building the gallery, she asked me to 
become a member of her foundation board. She didn't go 
into any detail at all as to what the board was to do or 
what the foundation was to accomplish or what kind of 
financing would back the foundation. When I saw her 
failing, rather rapidly, during the last six or so months 
of her life, I insisted that she call a board meeting — 
which she had never done — to delineate her sense of what 
the board should do if anything happened to her. She at 
first was unwilling to do this. She said, "I want the 
board to do any damn thing they want to do. I don't want 
to put any strings on it." I said, "Virginia, that's not 
fair. You know that I'm the only one on the board that 
has had background in art, and that to simply say let 
the board do what they want to do without the board 
having some real sense of your philosophy and your faith 
and so forth is wrong." 

Well, finally, to cut a long story short, I helped 
her write an agenda, which she completely approved of, 
and the idea was to major in American art and to have as 
fine a collection as we could possibly get on the West 
Coast. We would do this out of income over a period of 
time. Then very abruptly she died, just one day before 
the day of the first board meeting she had called. For- 
tunately her secretary had taken down everything that had 


been discussed, and I had my notes, so we were able to 
have the board meeting with some sense of her being there 
and her agreement on what we were planning. 

Well, we were shocked when we found that the neighbors 
themselves objected strenuously to our bringing in even 
the same numbers of people that Mrs. Scott would have 
been able to bring in quite naturally with no problems 
whatsoever as a private gallery. But the fact that it 
became a foundation gave them the legal right to inter- 
fere, which they certainly did. We cannot even bring 
what we had planned at the outside, a hundred people a 
week, in small groups, by invitation and by appointment. 
So we turned completely toward developing our collection 
with the idea that, eventually, we will build a new 
museum, a new gallery, that will be open in a place 
where the public can come quite easily. 

At first we thought we would buy out of income, and 
it turned out to be a very large foundation, large to me 
at least, some $14 million, including the property and 
including the things that she had already collected. We 
found that there were two reasons why we should perhaps 
not try to do this out of income, the first reason being 
probably the most valid: that American art has become a 
tremendously important thing in the collecting world 
today, not only because of American museums and private 
collectors but because investors from Europe are buying 


it. We've been shocked by the fact in this year and a 
half that I've been buying paintings to discover that 
the Swiss and the Germans and the French dealers, as 
well as other collectors, have been buying, in an amazing 
way, the top things that they can get their hands on. 
The supply of modern French art, and the supply of the 
old masters, between being frozen by their various 
countries and the tremendous prices of modern French, 
makes it impossible to go into those areas. The few 
things available today are mostly exchanged back and 
forth among top private collectors. So it's strange 
that some of the same people who have been collecting 
European pictures are now buying the great American 
paintings as securities and investments. So because of 
this and the fact that inflation will outrun you in terms 
of the cost of the paintings going up and the value of 
the dollar falling, we felt and we have been advised 
that we should go ahead and buy out of capital, which 
we're doing now. At this point, we have seventy-one 
great American paintings. 

GOODWIN: And your goal is about a hundred? 
SHEETS: We hope to have somewhere between the seventy- 
one and a hundred. It could be ninety or it could be 
ninety-five or it could be a hundred. However, what 
I'm looking for and what the board has agreed definitely 
to accomplish is to find the great paintings that are 


the stepping-stones in the development of what you could 
really call American art. We are starting with a [John 
Singleton] Copley, that is an American Copley painted 
before he went to England, where there's a certain native 
feeling that didn't occur in his English pictures. The 
same thing, of course, with Gilbert Stuart, Ralph Earl, 
and some of the early portrait painters, who are very 
unique in the fact that there is a kind of American 
quality that we want and have found. Then when we come 
on down through the whole eighteenth and nineteenth cen- 
turies, it isn't too hard to select those who are the 
forerunners, who really are the leaders of movements 
through landscape areas, through the portrait areas, and 
the genre painters. Fortunately we've been able to get 
really very, very fine, high-quality examples of the 
artists that we've collected. We're still missing some 
very important ones. 

GOODWIN: How far chronologically will the collection go? 
SHEETS: Chronologically, we had decided roughly to stop 
somewhere between 1920 and 1930. In one or two instances, 
we've come beyond that, but basically that is the area 
that we're trying to stay within. We know that over a 
period of time in the future there will be enough influ- 
ence of this foundation and the groups that we are going 
to build as supporting groups to continue to collect the 
contemporary thing, the contemporary qualities that can 


be added in painting, hopefully in sculpture, and cer- 
tainly in the graphics to eventually have a very large 
lending library from which universities, colleges, and 
even museums can borrow things. We expect to have an 
ongoing exhibition program in our new galleries or 
museum where we can show three or four major exhibitions 
a year of various aspects of American painting, sometimes 
the greatest older masters and at times very contemporary 
things, but on a high level, so that whenever anyone goes 
to the gallery, they'll know that they're going to see 
something that is really very fine and worthwhile and 
that the main collection will never become static. 
That's where we are, and I think it's particularly 
exciting because we're going to be within, I think, two 
years of building our museum. We have several, at least 
three, major possibilities where we can go. This is 
being worked out now, the final decisions and all of 
the legal matters that have to be gone through. 
GOODWIN: You want to become affiliated with an existing 

SHEETS: Quite possibly, but in a very free sense at 
the same time, which is, I think, possible to do. 
GOODWIN: We have just a few more minutes left on the 
tape here, but let's talk about one other aspect of your 
work, which is related to the Scott Foundation. At one 
time you served in the capacity of dealer, I believe. 


for Bullock's Department Store. 

SHEETS: Well, I was not exactly a dealer; I was a 

GOODWIN: A purchaser. 

SHEETS: Right. I went to Europe, I've forgotten the 
year now, for Bullock's Department Stores, which by that 
time, of course, belonged to the Federated Department 
Stores. They asked me to buy contemporary art or perhaps 
back, in some cases, fifty, seventy-five years, paintings 
from England, Scotland, France, Italy, Switzerland, 
Germany, for a special traveling show that would open in 
the Pasadena Bullock's and then travel through a series 
of Bullock's stores throughout Southern California. This 
would be shown so that the public could buy things that 
had been selected for quality at a great range of prices. 
I think they were as low as probably fifteen or twenty or 
thirty dollars, in the case of certain prints, up to 
paintings that were worth a few thousand dollars. It 
was exciting to do this because I realized that it wasn't 
the first time that it had been done. Vincent Price had 
worked for Sears for a year or two before that and had 
done a very good job raising the Sears image by having 
such shows. Bullock's felt that it was a service, more 
than just competition, a service that they ought to 
perform, a large cut, certainly, above their gift shop 
and that kind of thing. I really had a great deal of 


fun doing this, but it was hard work. I would go to a 
city, having made all the arrangements ahead, of course. 
I had been to Europe just a few weeks before on a trip 
of my own, and I had made arrangements with one of the 
top London galleries to have a large group of artists 
whose work I had selected by name, knowing their work, 
bring their things into this collection point, where I 
looked at them and bought freely from the things that 
were there. 

GOODWIN: Kind of like being a juror? 

SHEETS: It's just exactly like being a juror, you bet. 
That's why I said purchaser rather than a dealer because 
I had nothing to do with the dealing end of it — except 
perhaps in the sense that I did price everything where I 
thought it belonged. I didn't have someone telling me 
that they should put a price on a thing that I didn't 
think belonged. I bought some things that were very 
reasonable that I put a much higher price on because I 
thought they were worth it. Other things I kept very 
close to the original purchase price because, although 
they had to have a certain markup, it wasn't exorbitant. 
I was followed along by one of the Bullock's buyers, who 
paid the bills and saw to the shipping and all that kind 
of thing. I can't remember now, but it seems to me I 
bought around 900 works totally. It ranged from Rembrandt 
etchings to a few pretty serious paintings, pretty 


important paintings. That was another interesting 
experience because I learned a great deal about the 
public. Things that I thought were going to be sure- 
fire, either because of price or because of the fact 
that we didn't get enough real art collectors, the works 
just didn't sell rapidly enough. There were many people 
at the first opening days of each of these shows. But 
there were not too many actually buying. It's my under- 
standing, although I'm not sure of this, that after the 
main exhibitions were over, they gave the University of 
California at Los Angeles a choice of anything they 
wanted from its art collection. I believe a great many 
fine things went to UCLA, but I'm not sure about that. 
I believe the company made a large profit on the invest- 

GOODWIN: In any event, the idea didn't catch on or you 
weren't interested in continuing? 

SHEETS: The Federated Department Stores of America 
bought Bullock's just about the time that this first 
project was launched. Being a very large, national 
organization and having a much lower price range com- 
pared to the Bullock's high price range, they didn't 
feel, for whatever reason, like they wanted to do the 
second show, which was to be an American show. Then, 
as is so often the case, the two top people who were 
behind this at Bullock's died. It just seemed to 


TAPE NUMBER: XI [video session] 
FEBRUARY 5, 1977 and FEBRUARY 9, 1977 

GOODWIN: Today is February 5, 1977, and this is George 

Goodwin at the home of Millard and Mary Sheets in Mendocino 

County, California. Their home is called Barking Rocks, 

and it's near a little settlement called Anchor Bay, 

California. We're about 150 miles north of San Francisco? 

SHEETS: One hundred thirty-five. 

GOODWIN: One hundred thirty-five. You've been living 

here since 1960? 

SHEETS: That's right. 

GOODWIN: What led you up here, away from Southern 


SHEETS: Well, we'd always wanted a place on the sea. In 

the early days we searched every part of Southern California 

hoping that we could find what we were looking for. I'm 

afraid in those days everything we found we couldn't afford, 

and then by the time we were able to get what we wanted, 

this was the nearest place to Southern California. We 

found it on a trip one time as we turned a corner and 

saw these islands and decided this was where we wanted 

to live. 

GOODWIN: About how much property do you have here? 

SHEETS: There's seven acres where the house is located, 

and then we have a mile and a qraarter of coastline, which 


starts a quarter of a mile away, that we bought as an 
investment and a place to enjoy. It's a very famous 
point called Haven's Neck. 

GOODWIN: Here we are in the main gallery of Barking 
Rocks, where we're seeing a large number and a great 
variety of art objects, but primarily sculpture. We're 
starting at the south end, I believe, and moving north- 
ward. We just looked at an example of Roman art, I 

SHEETS: That's right. That was a piece of sculpture 
that I got in Turkey many, many years ago, and that was 
a Greek icon we just passed. The reason there are so 
many different kinds of objects in this gallery is the 
fact that I like art, period. I have enjoyed traveling 
immensely and I collect as I go. This is to me a very 
exciting twelfth-century German Gothic sculpture that 
I've had for a long time. It's something that has 
lived very well. The color is beautiful, I think, in 
the patina of this figure. In placing it next to the 
figure we're going to see, carved by a Tarascan Indian 
in probably the eighteenth century near Lake Patzcuaro, 
you get an interesting expression, I think, of great 
feeling in both instances of the spirit of the Christo , 
but done in a totally different manner: one in a very 


refined manner, very sophisticated carving, the other 
in very primitive carving. That's a little penitente 
figure from New Mexico. As we've discussed before, 
George, a collector never owns anything. You pay well 
for the privilege of having nice people around to talk 
to, but of course they outlast you, which, I think, is 
the most exciting thing about collecting. You've had a 
hand in protecting beautiful things for a period of time, 
I feel no sense of possession. I just enjoy so much 
meeting some of the great minds of all time as I look 
at various kinds of art. 

GOODWIN: Now, here's a rare painting. It's a Millard 
Sheets. [ Arizona Mission ] [laughter] 
SHEETS: Well, this is here only for one reason. A 
friend of mine knew that I liked this painting, repre- 
senting a certain period of about almost thirty years 
ago. When he had an opportunity to purchase it, he 
bought it and gave it to me as a present. I feel 
obligated to hang it in the gallery. Otherwise, I'm 
sure it wouldn't be there. 

GOODWIN: We're now beginning to enter the particular 
strength of the collection, which is obviously pre- 
Columbian art. How long have you been active in the 
pre-Columbian field? 

SHEETS: About forty years. Again on this table, which 
we're passing rapidly, you have things that go back to 


the Tlatilco period. You have Colima. There is a 
Nayarit figure, and the pot in the background coining 
up is from the Monte Alban period of the Zapotecs and 
the Mixtecs. 

GOODWIN: You've explained that many of these pieces 
were acquired in Mexico. 

SHEETS: Yes. In the old days, Mexico didn't really seem 
to care too much about people bringing things out. I 
bought a great many things in Mexico. That hasn't been 
true now for a great many years. We have an agreement 
between the Mexican government and the United States 
government to send important things back when they're 
found here. It's a reciprocal agreement that has to be 
respected. This is an interesting figure, a Chinesco, 
very unusual both in size and in pose. It's a figure 
that I've enjoyed a great deal. 

GOODWIN: Are you a very systematic collector or do you 
collect what appeals to you at the moment? 
SHEETS: No, I collect what appeals. I don't think I'm 
systematic at all. Of course, in collecting you have 
to collect when you have an opportunity because the 
pieces rarely remain. You have to make up your mind. 
This is a nice stone head from the Valley of Mexico that 
I've always liked. I learned a long time ago that if 
you really want something and you feel that you can 
afford it, the thing to do is to get it, because if 


you pass it by it's gone for all time. This is one of 
my pet pieces. This is a marvelous Khymer figure from 
Cambodia, and it's in such wonderful state, even though 
the arms and lower legs are gone and one ear. The rest 
of the head is absolutely perfect, never been damaged, 
and it's a beautiful piece. Of course the head was 
obviously knocked off and it's simply sitting there. 
GOODWIN: Was this acquired, by the way, when you were 
in that part of the world? 

SHEETS: I bought that in Thailand from a marvelous woman 
who is one of the great dealers and collectors in Thailand, 
who spent a tremendous amount of time in Cambodia. There's 
just a fraction of a very large fresco. It's a detail, 
but I love the painting in it. This is something I don't 
imagine they would allow out of Italy today. I bought it 
probably twenty-five or more years ago. It's a triptych 
in the school of Vivarini, and the central figure and the 
figure on the right have been, I think, relatively un- 
touched. The figure on the left was painted over some, 
but it's a very decorative piece in its original frame. 
There's a whole family of Chinese© figures, as you see, 
from the big papa at the back, coming down to baby. Now 
we're getting some other figures in the foreground, which 
are on another table, but that's an unusual figure. It's 
flat as a little piece of pie crust, but it has a beautiful 
feeling in it, a funny little figure sitting on the lap. 


GOODWIN: Is the arrangement of the objects in the 
collection essentially stationary, or do you like to 
shove things atound? 

SHEETS: No, we move them around, but I like things out 
in the middle so you can walk around them. This is a 
nice, very good Nayarit figure and that's a very archiac 
Colima dog that is admired by people who know Colima. 
It's very early, in this curled-up position with the 
strange little leg forms, but it's a beautiful pot. 
It's never been broken at all. 

GOODWIN: This is a very large space. Do you remember 
the dimensions? 

SHEETS: The gallery is about seventy-five feet long and 
twenty-six feet wide and fifteen feet high. I built it 
as big as the number of beams that I had, which were hand- 
adzed beams, and they came from a hundred -year-old bridge 
that was built up here in Mendocino County. A friend of 
mine bought the bridge, and then I bought the timbers 
from him, and he erected them in the most astonishing way. 
I've never seen anybody put beams up like he did. They're 
enormous and very heavy. 

GOODWIN: Was the gallery built shortly after the house? 
SHEETS: No, I didn't build the gallery until about four 
years ago. We put it off mainly because we weren't sure 
what we were going to do with the collection, but our 
kids seemed to want to have them here in one place, so 


we built the gallery really for that reason. Those are 
just fragments of Greek Tanagras, but they're lovely 
little pieces. In this particular case, we have a great 
many objects representing a great many different cultures 
in Burma, Siam, and little bronze figures from Tibet. 
GOODWIN: You've commented that the objects seem to 
speak to one another. 

SHEETS: I think this is true. I think that good works, 
regardless of what culture they come from, speak to one 
another, like this Egyptian figure. It's a wooden figure 
from the great period of Ikhnaton, and I like it very 
much. I think he speaks to these Maya and other figures 
that are in the case. There seems to be a very happy 
relationship. I don't find any quarrel at all between 
them. He's really sitting there very quietly while this 
Mussolini-like figure from the Island of Jaina is pontifi- 
cating, and these two men, warriors, I suppose, are 
standing by. But they are rare gems, these little 
figures, today. Practically nothing comes out of Mexico 
today representing this period. They had wonderful ideas 
about headdresses that, I think, are very decorative and 
very exciting. But how they could capture in about eight 
or ten inches of height the amount of dignity I just 
think is remarkable. Look at this old gentleman with 
his cloak and his shield. The poses are somewhat similar 
from figure to figure, but the modeling of course varies 


a great deal, and very often the color. Now, these two 
ladies are very, very rare, both in quality and in size. 
Well, I've got a man between them. I'd forgotten about 
him. They are extremely well sculpted, and this one on 
the right has the most beautiful blue, which is very 
sought after and very, very rare. 
GOODWIN: Do you ever sketch your pieces? 
SHEETS: No, I never have really. I just loved seeing 
the resemblance between these figures and the people 
that live in Mexico and in Guatemala today. It's 
astounding how many of the poses and the way they sit 
and look are just alike. Of course that's a little, 
early Olmecan piece, that small figure, the fat man on 
the left. These Tlatilco figures with the large hips 
are very, very rare, and they are about 150 to 250 B.C. 
That pair of quite realistic figures, if you could see 
the whole figure, they're extremely well modeled. They 
came from the Chupicuaro area. This is a mask from 
Mexico in this transparent stone. I've forgotten what 
you call this transparent stone. 
GOODWIN: Alabaster. 

SHEETS: Alabaster, of course. This little figure in 
the foreground is Chinesco. Then we have these two 
strange guys at the back and a whole assorted group of 
different periods. Those are nearly all early Colima 


GOODWIN: It's so refreshing for me to see the figures 
arranged in this informal manner, where they're not 
boxed into tight specialties. 

SHEETS: Well, I like mixing them up obviously. This is 
a beautiful piece, an Olmecan baby. The Metropolitan 
[Museum] borrowed this for their show celebrating their 
one-hundredth anniversary ["Before Cortez"]. This is 
another Olmecan crawling baby. Those figures are dated 
between 8 50 and 1100 B.C. and they're among the oldest 
things, except for the Egyptian piece that I showed you. 
But these are both very rare figures, these Olmecan 
babies. That's a pure Olmecan mouth, but see how Oriental 
it is? It has a very strong Chinese feeling. You could 
almost swear it was Chinese. This was an old Moroccan 
door that I had had for years and years and didn't know 
what to do with it, so I decided we'd use it in one side 
of a cabinet. I have a great friend, Frank Watrons, up 
here who makes beautiful furniture. He put it together 
for me. It makes a good base for some more figures. 
As you see, those are Tarascan dogs. 

GOODWIN: We're now standing in the north end of the 
gallery and looking south towards the entrance. 
SHEETS: That's right. When I built the gallery, I had 
an overhang from the guest house, which has a concrete 
roof, so it gave me a chance to build a series of niches. 
This door goes on through to a storehouse. But these 


niches made very nice places to arrange figures. I've 
used different colors in them to make them more inter- 
esting. This figure is Burmese. The heads are Cambodian, 
and there is a contemporary pot in the foreground by 
Beatrice Wood. 

GOODWIN: Do you ever have time to sit quietly in the 

SHEETS: I do. I like to go out here, and I like to read 
out here and then look around while I'm reading. Of 
course, I love to go out to show things to people. I 
always feel refreshed because there's a kind of security. 
It's not the possession, but just in being around the 
kinds of minds that produced these things, minds that 
were able to put into stone or into clay or whatever the 
form, whatever the material used, that were able to 
inculcate as much spirit and timeless quality in the 
works, is a challenge to any artist. This is a Gothic 
polychromed stone Madonna and Child from south Germany. 
Here's a Chinese Tang camel and Tang vase. That's an 
early Han horse. Before the Arab horse was introduced, 
which gave the arch to the neck, the Chinese horses had 
these little short necks and big hammerheads, as we call 
them. They look mean, and they must have been mean. 
GOODWIN: Here's something a little more contemporary. 
SHEETS: This is a sketch done in bronze, by Carl Milles. 
It's part of a group for a large garden that he executed. 


I believe in Maryland, called the Garden of Memories. 
He was given the commission, the last major commission 
he had, and he used for the figures some 100 figures of 
friends of his who had died. Those girls were a couple 
of young sisters who had died in an automobile accident 
when they were about eighteen. I like nature in every 
form, obviously, and these shells are always fascinating 
to me because of the incredible, almost infinite, variety 
of form and shape and color. And yet they have such a 
structural sense that is just fundamental to the idea 
of a shell, I guess. 

GOODWIN: You also have a case of mounted butterflies, 
which we are unable to see. 

GOODWIN: It's amazing to me that most of this work is 
anonymous. We don't know who the individual artists and 
craftsmen were, but it really doesn't matter. 
SHEETS: It really doesn't, and I think that that's the 
thing that you get from such a collection. It's like 
looking at a Gothic cathedral: you don't know who 
carved all those fantastic figures. You perhaps were 
more apt to know who painted the triptychs than you 
would the people who carved, but to think it went on 
for over a hundred* years sometimes in one building, 
the work itself carried on over the years, it's very 


GOODWIN: It might be something that comtemporary artists 
could learn about being modest. 

SHEETS: I think our ego trips are pretty small by com- 
parison to the kind of spirit that was inculcated in some 
of these pieces. This is an extremely unusual stone piece 
from India. It came from a temple somewhere in the desert 
east of Karachi, the Rajputan. There's only one other 
figure that I know of in the United States that came from 
that same temple. Dick Fuller found it when he was in 
India and it's in the Seattle museum. These are the only 
two pieces, and they obviously came from the same place. 

These matrimonial pieces are very good. They call 
them matrimonial because they're married couples. These 
are archaic Nayarit and very, very good ones. That's a 
lovely little dwarf fron Colima, along with an armadillo. 
This character is playing on a rasp some kind of rhythm 
and music. 

GOODWIN: That looks like a Japanese screen. 
SHEETS: That is a nice screen in the back. It's seven- 
teenth century. 

GOODWIN: There are several screens that run the length 
of that east wall. 

SHEETS: I think they make a good background, and I like 
them just for themselves. This is a marvelous little 
Chinesco figure. They're very difficult to find of 
that quality. That's a pair of figures from the Guadalajara 


area. They call them Jalisco, and it's a different style 
entirely. That's another Colima dog. This is an extra- 
ordinary figure from the east coast, the Vera Cruz region. 
It's sometimes called Juastecan, and I am very fond of 
this figure. He's a pretty strong character. It's a 
large figure, too, as compared to so many of the ceramic 
figures that you find. 

GOODWIN: It's a great thrill for me to see this collection 
as well as your entire home here. 

SHEETS: Well, it's great for me to have you here to see 
it, George. 

GOODWIN: I'm in the living room of the main house at 
Barking Rocks with Mr. and Mrs. Sheets. This is the 
first opportunity we've had to meet and see Mrs. Sheets. 
Although it may sound like a chauvinist question, I do 
want to hear about the large family which has played a 
big part in your life. You have several children and 

MRS. SHEETS: Yes, I don't think it's a bit chauvinist 
because, after all, what is more wonderful than having 
a lot of children? Yes, we have four children, and the 
oldest is Millard Owen Sheets, Jr. We always called him 
Owen to save confusion. He was born a year after we were 
married. He's now living in Hawaii, where he ' s a sugar 


technician with one of the big plantations. So he and 

his family are living a real plantation life. He married 

a girl from Kauai, and they started off our population 

explosion with five children. 

GOODWIN: You have a son who's an artist, too. 

MRS. SHEETS: That's our youngest son, Tony. Then we 

have a daughter, Caroline, then a son, David, then Tony. 

Each one has added to the confusion and the celebration 

by having families: Caroline has three, David two, and 

Tony two--well, Tony three now. We have a couple of 

step-grandchildren, who are very dear to our hearts. 

So that makes fifteen. They're all doing exciting things 

and living very meaningful lives, which is great. So, 

what greater reward? 

GOODWIN: Good. Another part of your extended family is 

not human but animal, because the Sheetses have been horse 

enthusiasts for many, many years. 

SHEETS: Yes, I think that's like collecting. It's a 

disease, but a very happy one. I grew up with horses, 

and we always had horses when the boys were growing up. 

They rode from our house to Webb School, where the boys 

went to school. Then I've always, on the side, had one 

or two racehorses; and now I'm involved with friends of 

mine, and we have several. That's a great deal of 

pleasure for me to follow the breeding carefully and 

see these youngsters come along and race. I get a 


great big kick out of it. Of course I've always loved 

animals. We've always had birds and cats and dogs and 

every other kind of animal, too. 

MRS. SHEETS: Also goats and sheep. 

SHEETS: A few wild ones, very exciting. 

GOODWIN: This room, of course, is only one of the 

structures at Barking Rocks, and of course Mr. Sheets 

designed them all. We have a main house, a guest house, 

a gallery, a studio, an aviary, and several other 


SHEETS: It looks a little like a penal institution. 


GOODWIN: Tell us a little about the design of this room. 

SHEETS: Of course we were very excited about the special 

view that you get out the window, and that's why we have 

large windows with this unusual fish-rock-island combination 

out in front of us. We see, of course, the incredible life 

on the island. At times we have as many as 3,000 sea lions, 

and the whales migrating back and forth from Alaska to 

Mexico come in very close, sometimes inside the bay. 

Then we have enormous migrations of birds. We felt that 

we wanted a really open view on that side. On the other 

hand, the rest of the house is fairly solid. We wanted 

to keep it on the ground and make it feel like it belonged 

here, so we used stone and wood, which has pretty well 

blended right into the background of the countryside. 


When we built, these little pines were quite small. Now 
they're surrounding the house, and it's been very nice 
to see it settle in. We like the feeling of the stone, 
and there's so little to do except sometimes a little 
oiling of the wood--not much in the way of upkeep from 
the outside. And it's a pleasant house to live in. 
GOODWIN: It's more than that: it's fascinating. We're 
now ready to take a walk over to the studio and see how 
Mr. Sheets works in between his numerous projects. 

GOODWIN: Today is February 9, 1977, and I'm with Millard 
Sheets at the collection of the Virginia Steele Scott 
Foundation in Pasadena. Today we're going to try and 
give an overview of Mr. Sheets 's work as a painter, but 
obviously this is an extremely difficult task, because 
he's painted well over 3,000 paintings, and we're going 
to look at only a handful, only about a dozen. Of course 
we're limited by the number of paintings here, but the 
Scott Foundation probably has the largest number of Mr. 
Sheets 's paintings of any collection. There are about 
sixty here, I understand. Currently we're looking at 
some of the earliest paintings by Millard Sheets in the 
Scott collection. These three paintings date from the 
thirties, I believe. 
SHEETS: This painting [Abandoned], I believe, is 1932, 


if I remember correctly [actually 1934] . It was painted 
for the Carnegie International. I was invited, fortu- 
nately, all the years from 1930 onward as long as the 
shows were held, and I always looked forward to painting 
something special for Carnegie, and this is one of many 
paintings that I did for it. I was lucky to be invited 
because the last time they had an exhibition at Carnegie 
that was subject to a jury was in 1930, and it became 
something of a scandal. Only fifteen pictures out of 
several thousand were accepted. Being the only one west 
of the Mississippi River that was accepted, my painting 
did get probably more attention than it deserved, but 
they did invite me from that point on. 

GOODWIN: How would you characterize the style of this 
painting, compared to some of your later work? 
SHEETS: Well, I suppose it's more truly representational 
in one sense than some of the things that I do today, but 
this is where I grew up. This is in the Chino hills area, 
and it's an old farm that was abandoned during the 
Depression. It was a very moody place, and I was very 
much interested in dark and light as a design factor. 
I guess that's about all I could say as far as any 
special style. It grew right out of my own background. 
GOODWIN: It's a very strong picture, I would say. 
SHEETS: I like the feeling of it, and it holds up pretty 
well over the years. Of course it would be fun to repaint 


GOODWIN: Right. This is an oil painting, but on either 
side we have two watercolors. 

SHEETS: Yes, painted in the same area as the watercolor 
that you're standing by [ River Bottom ] , that is, down in 
the same bottom land of Chino. I did spend a tremendous 
amount of time there. Though I was teaching at Scripps, 
I spent many weekends down in that area painting. I 
painted every kind of light and mood, and I think I learned 
more about painting in that period from going out and 
working directly from nature steadily every week than 
perhaps I ever learned at any other time. But it's, 
again a sort of moody thing down in the half -swamp, half- 
bottom land, where they had a few cattle in pasture. 
It's a very early one [1937]. 

GOODWIN: Let's take a look at this other watercolor 
[The House on the Hill ] . 

SHEETS: Well, this was a painting of the same house 
actually that was in that oil painting. It was done on 
the scene as just a shot taken in place, whereas the 
other was a composition. I moved buildings around that 
had been in other parts of the area when I made the 
larger painting. But this was about the same period. 
GOODWIN: Do you have favorite subjects or motifs? 
SHEETS: Well, of course I love everything, really. I 
love landscape, the sea; I like people; I like particu- 
larly things with people and/or horses, which I love 


very much because I've raised them all my life and I've 
been around them all my life. I'm afraid they crop into 
more pictures than the average person would use a horse, 
but it's because I like them very much. Also I like 
landscape, and I like old ranches and all things that 
have character. Although I'm not so much interested in 
the surface of every shingle as some painters are, I'm 
interested in the mood that you find in these places. 
GOODWIN: Let's look now at some later work in another 
part of the gallery. 

We've actually jumped forward a great distance in 
time. We're looking at three paintings that date from 
the sixties, I believe. We have two watercolors on 
either side of the larger painting, but the larger 
painting is an acrylic. It's evident to me, especially 
in color, that this painting in particular [ Familia 
Equus in Elysian Field , 1967] represents a dramatic 
departure from the paintings we just viewed. 
SHEETS: Yes, this is about the period when I really 
became tremendously interested in color, apart from 
dark and light. You have to, of course, have dark and 
light in any painting, but as far as my new exciting 
interest in color, it developed about this period. I 
did a whole series of acrylics, as well as watercolors 


and oils, that sent me into a whole new period of 
painting . 

GOODWIN: How did that come about, Mr. Sheets? 
SHEETS: Well, I think it came about because I realized 
after painting for a very long time that I was always 
stopped at a certain point. I never seemed to be able to 
go beyond a certain gate. I tried to analyze what it was 
that made me keep everything high-keyed to a degree, 
although those early pictures were low-key. Most of 
the painting preceding this was fairly high-keyed, and 
I think it was a precious attitude toward watercolor 
painting particularly that developed this within me. 
As I recognized the fact that the world is almost infinite 
in its variety and certainly in its moods, I found that 
you can put your picture high or low in dark and light, 
or you can give it brilliant and intense color, or you 
can have muted color, or you can have a combination of 
both, I realized that I'd been probably following a kind 
of routine, if not habit, as an approach to problems. So 
it was about this time that I decided that I would try to 
get as much color as I could against muted color. I 
think the reason that this seems to have a lot of color 
is that there are enough greys and muted colors in it to 
give you a sense of color. If you use raw colors all 
over, they fight each other. But if you have enough 
contrast between greyed and muted color against real 


color, you get a greater sense of color. There's nothing 
particularly bright about this picture. It does have 
some yellows and some bright reds, but the value scheme 
is very close, actually. There's no real dark in it, 
and there's no real light in it. It's a muted picture, 
although it does have more sense of color. 
GOODWIN: At this point in your work, are you still 
working closely with nature or are you freer to compose, 
say, in your own studio? 

SHEETS: Well, I've been doing that for many years, 
working in the studio, but I've always felt that you 
have to do both. For me I find it extremely exciting 
to go out and paint, even today. Maybe I'm not as agile 
as I used to be, and it isn't as comfortable as it used 
to be sitting around in the cold and wind and on the 
ground, but I feel great when I go out painting. Then 
I feel equally excited to come back and work purely from 
the things that are in my head and the memory of beautiful 
things. Very often I make a painting from a little rough 
pen drawing that I might have made ten or fifteen years 
ago, and it wasn't even a very descriptive pen drawing, 
maybe just a few lines to suggest something. I go through 
files and sketchbooks and that kind of thing, sometimes, 
and work like that. This one is purely a composition, of 
course, with the elements that I like: flowers and hills 
and water and horses. But I like acrylic because it's a 


medium you can work in on and on. I paint all my large 
murals in acrylic. It's much easier to work indefinitely 
with acrylic. 

GOODWIN: Let's move in back here, looking at a painting 
called Spanish — whoops, that's the painting we just moved. 
This is a painting of India. No, Nepal. [ Old Temple , 
Katmandu , Nepal , 1968] 

SHEETS: Right. It's an old temple in Nepal. I probably 
became more descriptive here than I had done for a long 
time, but I was quite enamored with the temples and the 
architecture and the costumes of the people. On trips 
of this kind, I liked very much to make good records and 
notes which mean something to me, from which, again, your 
ideas flow more easily and freely when you get back in 
your studio, and sometimes even many, many years later. 
Of course, with that fantastic little piece of the 
Himalayas back there, you get some sense of the wildness 
of this country. But the rivers are very bold and strong, 
This one happened to be in a fairly dry season, but they 
really have fantastic rivers and unbelievable, dramatic 

GOODWIN: This seems to be a much tighter painting than 
the one we just looked at. 

SHEETS: Well, that's what I meant when I said that very 
often I work in a more descriptive sense to get material 
together and really figure out how that particular place 


works. Then perhaps later on, not that I would paint 
this over again, but I might use this kind of thing in 
the background of a composition, where I would use it 
much more freely because I understand it. I like to 
feel that part of your work regularly is to research. 
It's to find out how things are made. I do love the 
facts sometimes, and this happens to be one of those 

times . 

GOODWIN: You've painted everywhere in the world you've 


SHEETS: Yes, I certainly have. That's one of the great 
things about watercolor as a medium. You can carry it 
with you so easily. When you're through, you put it in 
your portfolio immediately. You don't have to wait for 
oil paint to dry. It's very, very easy to travel with. 
I carry about fifty pounds of equipment with me when I 
go around the world, but that isn't too bad. 
GOODWIN: Let's look at another scene from India, I 


SHEETS: No, that's also Nepal [The Cloth Dyers, Katmandu, 
Nepal , 1967]. It's along another river where they dye 
the material that they use for native costumes. It's 
dyed in long, long strips, then it's cut up later for 
use as a garment. But after they've washed it in the 
river all day, they stretch it out on the sand — it's 
fairly clean sand— and they let it dry out. Then it's 


ready to be used. But it makes nice patterns, and the 
people are colorful . 

GOODWIN: You've explained in the past that any painting, 
whether it's representational or not, should have a solid, 
underlying design. Does this painting have more of an 
abstract quality to you than, say, the one we just looked 

SHEETS: Yes, I think so. It probably does have. I 
think just the arrangement of the stripes within the 
page and the river and the simplification of the land- 
scape and all that, with those little buildings in the 
background, making it a shape against this as a shape — 
I think that's true. I try to do that in almost every 
painting. Sometimes you fail, but you try. 
GOODWIN: How consistent do you feel you are as a painter? 
Are you pleased with most everything you do or are there 
rare occasions when you feel that you've done something 
especially rewarding? 

SHEETS: Oh, I certainly feel that way. I've never 
painted anything I didn't try very hard to paint well. 
I have never painted anything just to make a painting. 
I've never turned out a picture in my life just for the 
sake of turning out a picture. But I do think that you 
do go through doors occasionally that are very exciting. 
When you go through that door, you know it, because the 
painting certainly reflects it. On trips, you gather 


steam, as a rule. When I go, for instance to Tahiti for 
two or three weeks, or to India — it doesn't make any 
difference — or to Mexico, after about half of the time, 
you really warm up. It's not different than a football 
player. You get so with it that you begin to work very 
much more instinctively, and you put more of yourself 
into it. You're less involved with what you see. Every 
so often you go through a brand-new door, like this 
working in the new color a few years ago. I was, I 
suppose, hopped up in the sense that I had really broken 
through something that had bothered me all my life. I 
painted with great intensity for a long time with just 
the exhilaration of that sense of breaking through. But 
every painting is an effort, as far as I'm concerned, to 
find out something or to express something that I feel 
very deeply. Sometimes they certainly don't necessarily 
happen in the same painting. A lot of research is impor- 
tant to any development, I believe. Maybe I'm just a 
slow thinker and have to research slowly, but I contin- 
uously work at it. 

GOODWIN: Good. Let's look at some more examples of your 
painting in the other side of the gallery. 
SHEETS: All right. 

GOODWIN: We're looking at three more paintings from the 


1960s. The central painting is an acrylic, and the two 
outside paintings are watercolors. It seems to me that 
the central painting represents a more romantic and more 
fantastic kind of imagery than the two watercolors. 
SHEETS: Well, it does. There's no doubt about it, George 
I think this is closer to the way I paint today, much 
closer than the ones we've been looking at. Again, it's 
a composition made from just feelings about places. I've 
been along the sea of northern California practically the 
length of California, and there are many places that I 
enjoy, little bays and the marvelous trees that come 
right down to the water. This is purely a composition, 
but I feel freer both in color and in design when I work 
that way. There's no doubt about it. 

GOODWIN: Let's compare it briefly to the landscape of 
Istanbul. [ Istanbul , Turkey , 1971] 

SHEETS: Well, in this case, if you've ever been to 
Istanbul, you know that the waterfront is a teeming place. 
In fact, the whole city is. With the excitement that 
these big mosques give to the skyline and the activity 
along the Bosporus, the boats and the shacks and the 
people, I suppose it's deliberately made to appear busy 
like the area felt to me. I've never been colder in my 
life that I was when I painted that picture, but I did 
paint it and I finished it right on the spot. It was a 
tremendously difficult thing because of the cold, but I 


thoroughly loved Istanbul. I've been there many times. 
GOODWIN: We've discussed earlier how you paint water- 
color, but could you just briefly review the steps you 
follow in a painting like this? 

SHEETS: Well, in a watercolor, of course, you depend 
upon the white of the paper to be your white pigment — 
you use no white — so naturally you have to preserve these 
lighter areas. At the same time, in order to make this 
water shine with the light on it, the sky had to come 
down far enough in value. So in this case, I threw a 
wash right over the whole background that was approximately 
the color of that sky. Oh, I think that perhaps had two 
washes on it. That way this whole thing all pulled 
together, and I might have wiped that out with a sponge 
halfway between these values. Just with one swipe you 
can do that. You build it up with underpainting the same 
way you put stud walls up before you put shingles or 
surfaces on the walls. I think that watercolor, when 
you feel that free about it, is much more fun than when 
you are precious about it and say, "Well, once over and 
that's it." That's what I meant a little earlier when 
I said to go down in value and to go into any kind of 
richness of tone, to hold this whole dark and at the 
same time make it luminous and open, you've got to get 
it down there first in value in order to make it really 
work against the greyness of that dark value, against 


that sky. Watercolor is a very direct medium, but you 
have to build it just like any other medium. 
GOODWIN: Are these whites that have been unpainted? 
SHEETS: That's paper. That's unpainted. I've never 
used any white at all. 

GOODWIN: Do you ever use a razor blade? 

SHEETS: No, I don't. I don't think it's necessary. If 
I want to take something out, I can cut a little mask, a 
piece of paper, and use a sponge, and get pure white out 
of it without abusing the paper. I just don't feel happy 
about cutting it. I don't think it's necessary. If I 
want to paint a flock of sea gulls going right through 
there, I could take some shapes of cut-out sea gulls and 
make twenty-five sea gulls running right through the 
thing, all white if I wanted to. It ' s no problem. 
There's no reason to have to use a knife. I think it's 
a kind of abuse of the paper. 

GOODWIN: Let's see exactly how you've done that with 
another painting on this wall. [ Gulls Migrating , 1968] 
SHEETS: Well, I don't believe that I actually wiped 
these out, but I think you can see the drawing of the 
birds, as I drew them in. These women come down to the 
pool to get water. As you see, there are three or four 
figures going back up toward the little village. As 
they come down, they nearly always raise a few birds. 
This is a case where you just have the simple trunks 


of the trees and the roots and the pool and the birds 
and the women and that's it. But this one happened to 
be very thoroughly designed. I draw with a pen a great 
deal because I think it's a very nice quality. I use a 
pen that doesn't in any way bleed. It's waterproof. So 
when I commit myself, I've really committed myself. But 
I find it's good for me to do that, to make up my mind. 
GOODWIN: We've noticed just from a few paintings that 
the horse is a favorite subject of yours, but it also 
is evident that birds are, too. 

SHEETS: Yes, I love birds. I love everything about 
nature. I think the magic of life is so infinite that 
the more we can crowd our feeling about it into a 
painting the better. 

GOODWIN: We're going to look at one more group of 
paintings in another gallery. 

We're actually looking at a tapestry and not a 
painting [ Falconers , 1960] . This was a tapestry that 
was designed as a result of Mr. Sheets 's trip to the 
Negev, in Israel. 

SHEETS: Yes, I had the real pleasure of seeing a large 
encampment of Bedouins, who were in the southern part of 
Israel, at the time I was there making a motion picture. 
They were having a marvelous time with their horses, as 


many as fifty or seventy-five of them galloping at one 
time in a wild race. Then others were using their 
falcons. It was like going back to the sixteenth or 
seventeenth century. I loved the textures on the Negev. 
There is a very fuzzy, little growth that is kind of 
exciting, I think the tapestry has the spirit of it, 
as I remembered it. I had the pleasure of making the 
cartoon and then sending it to Aubusson in France, 
where it was woven. 

GOODWIN: I've learned something in particular this 
morning that I didn't really anticipate. That is, in 
the past we've spoken a great deal about the importance 
of drawing — not only in your work but in the work of 
students — and it appears to me that color plays such 
a pervasive role in your painting, that you really 
have a very fanciful and romantic use of color. 
SHEETS: Well, this again is about the same period as 
those two acrylics that we looked at. I think it was 
the reveling in the new use of color that made this 
perhaps seem more colorful to you. I love the subtle- 
ties in funny brown bushes and, of course, I like the 
spots on horses, and I like the textures that you get. 
But I am tremendously excited about color, and all of 
my large murals now, that I've done in the last ten or 
fifteen years, have shown this same thing because I'm 
really very much interested in color. You can't 


separate it from drawing or values, but I think it's 
necessary to create a color chord in the same way that 
a musician creates chords. Whether you have it in dis- 
sonance or harmony, the chords must be there. This has 
been my search, I think, for the past fifteen years, 
particularly in all my painting. Even in my buildings, 
I work very hard to get this juicy quality, as though 
everything has been dipped in one kind of a juice. 
GOODWIN: Mr. Sheets, is there a difference between your 
commercial style and your personal style? 
SHEETS: Only because of the problems that are involved 
with a commercial work of art. You have an obligation 
to meet the needs of the problem, which does impose 
special restrictions. But as far as I'm concerned, 
there's absolutely no difference in my approach. 
GOODWIN: I'd like to try and bring some loose ends 
together in terms of a conclusion to this project. I 
know art historians like to use labels, but I don't know 
what to do in your instance, because we've reviewed your 
work as an artist, architectural designer, educator, 
correspondent, diplomat, collector, equestrian--what 
kind of label do we put on you? 

SHEETS: I don't think I have to have a label, do I? 
Don't you think that the important thing in life is to 
get the most out of it? As far as I'm concerned, every- 
thing I've done has been because I was intrigued and 


excited about the potential of doing the thing. I have 
always thought primarily of myself as a painter. If I 
lived my life over again, though I might have been a 
better painter if I had not done these other things, 
I certainly would go through, I'm sure, the same kind 
of experiences. I've thrived on them, in the sense that 
I really believe in an artist being involved in life, 
not living in a special place unless he has very excep- 
tional talent, which I, perhaps, don't have. I think 
there are people who can live in an ivory tower, but an 
ivory tower has never been for me. 

GOODWIN: Thank you very much for participating in this 
project. It's been a pleasure. 

SHEETS: It's certainly been my pleasure, and I certainly 
appreciate everything you've done, George. 
GOODWIN: Thank you. 



Abbey, Edward Austin 
Afflerbaugh, Jack 
Ahmanson, Howard 

Ahmanson, Mrs. Howard 
Ahmanson, Robert 
Ahmanson, William 
Ahmanson Center 
Alexander, Hartley 
Alexander, Hubert G. 
Alexander, Nellie 
Ambassador Hotel 
American Academy, Rome 
Ames, Arthur 
Ames, Jean 

Angelus Temple Church of 

the Foursquare Gospel 
Arensberg, Walter 
Armitage, Merle 

Millard Sheets (book) 
Armour, Richard 
Arnold, Henry 
Art Center School 

Association of American Colleges 
Astoria Hotel, Leningrad 
Autumn Salon, Paris 
Avignon Pieta , Louvre 



297, 334-335, 368- 

390, 396, 417-419, 





379, 418 

97-110, 121 


99, 104, 105-106 



332, 366, 

125, 141, 



145, 366, 







359, 364 

149, 150-158 

44, 47 
43, 484 



Bailey, Mr. 

Baker, Derwood 

Baldwin, Lucky 

Barbizon Plaza Hotel, New York 

Barking Rocks, Gualala, California 

Barlow, Jarvis 

Baskerville, Mary 

see Sheets, Mary Baskerville 
Baskerville, Mary Dalton 

Baziotes, William 
Beauchamp, Tony 











Beckett, Wei ton D. 

Beesmeyer group 

Bellows, George 

Beverly Hills Club 

Biddle, George 

Biddle family 

Bierstadt, Albert 

Biltmore Gallery (Biltmore-Cowie) 

Blau, Herbert 

Bohrod, Aaron 

Botticelli, Sandro 

Boy Scouts of America 

Bradbrooks, Milton 

Brangwyn, Frank 

Bridge of Espallion 
Braque, Georges 
Braun, John 

British Broadcasting Corporation 
British Museum, London 
Brooklyn Museum 
Brown, Ric 
Bruce, Edward 
Bryan, William A. 
Bullock's Department Store 

Pasadena store 
Byrnes, James 



10-11, 264 














226, 520 


58, 300 


359, 366-367 





Cal-Aero School 

California Art Club 

California Club 

California Coastal Commission 

California Institute of the Arts 

California Watercolor Society 
Carnegie International Exhibition, 

Chace, Burton W. 
Chagall, Marc 
Chamt>erlain, F. Tolles 

Chamberlain, Mrs. Tolles 
Chandler, Dorothy 
Chandler, Marilyn 
Chandler, Norman 
Chandler family 
Chapin, John 
Chiang Kai-shek 
Chicago Tribune (newspaper) 



317, 471 


33, 91, 93, 


24, 58, 363 

311, 558 















19, 21, 23, 24, 
3, 35, 89, 351- 

334-335, 336 



Childs, Kenneth 
Chouinard, Nelbert 

Chouinard Art Institute 

Claremont Colleges 

see also Claremont Men's College; 

Harvey Mudd College; Pomona 

College; Scripps College 
Claremont Men's College 
Colorado Springs Fine Arts 

Center, School of Art 
Columbia Broadcasting System 
Columbia Showcase Company 
Comfort, Will Levington 
Communist party 
Copley, John Singleton 
Cornell University 
Corrigan, Robert 
Covarrubias, Miguel 
Cowie, Alexander, and Gallery 
Craig, Tom 
Criley, Ted 
Crum, William 


17, 18-19, 57, 89, 

91, 93 

17-22, 29, 32, 33- 

37, 41, 45, 56-57, 

69, 89-94, 167-168, 

351-352, 362 






















, 203 





Daggs, Helen 
Dartmouth College 
Davidson, Howard C. 
Davidson, Mrs. Howard C. 
Davis, Edgar B., Prize 
Debs, Ernest 
De Kruif, Henri 
Delacour, Jean 
Democratic party 
Derain, Andre 
Detroit Institute of Arts 
Detroit Public Library 
Dieterle, William 
Dike, Phil 

Disney, Roy 
Disney, Walt 

Disney, Walt, Studios 
Disney family 
Dorfinant, Gaston 







57-58, 59 







21, 33-34, 90, 124, 

141, 145, 352 


33, 90, 93, 162, 

339-342, 343, 344 

90, 124, 340 




Dorn, Warren M. 338 

Duveen, Joseph 25 

Earhart, Amelia 247 

Earl, Ralph 537 

Edmondson, Leonard 3 21 

Edward VII, King of England 491 

Egan, Mark 448-449 

Ellerbe and Associates 422-424, 430, 434- 

435, 444 

Everett, Josephine 113 

Falcon (flying school) 182 

Federated Department Stores 539, 541 

of America 

Feitelson, Lorser 359, 365-366 

Fenci, Renzo 321 

Flannery, James 260-261 

Fong, Jade 76, 290 

Ford, John Anson 315-318, 337, 503 

Francesca, Piero della 446 

Freed, Ernest 330 

Fuller, Dick 553 

Gardner, Helen 

Art Through the Ages 19 

Garibaldi, Giuseppe 491 

Garrison, Robert H. 472, 474 

Garrison, Mrs. Robert H. - 472, 474 

Garrison Theatre, Claremont 171, 469-476 

GI Bill of Rights 91, 125, 128-129 

Gilbert, Cass 39-40, 41, 42 
Gladding-McBean Company 

see Interpace Company 

Glendale Airport 173 

Gogh, Vincent van 24, 29, 105-107, 


Golden Gate Exposition, 356, 358 

San Francisco 

Goldwater, Barry 530-531 

Goodhew, Bertram 97 

Gordon, Elizabeth 279 

Gottlieb, Adolph 294 

Graham, Don 21, 90 

Great Ziegfield, The (film) 498 



Hahn, Kenneth 

Haines, Richard 

Harrison, Preston, and collection 

Harvard University 

Harvey Mudd College 

Hassam, Childe 

Hatfield, Dalzell, and Gallery 

Hatfield, Mrs. Dalzell 

Hayward, Leland 

Head, Edith 

Henri, Robert 

Hermitage Museum, Leningrad 

Hertel, Susan 

Hesburgh, Theodore 

Heuduck family 

Hilton Hotel, Honolulu 

Hinkle, Clarence 

Hofmann, Hans 

Hollywood Bank 

Hollywood Savings and Loan 

Homes Savings and Loan Association 

Anaheim branch 

Barstow branch 

Hollywood branch 

Pasadena branch 

San Diego branch 

San Francisco branch 

Santa Maria branch 

Santa Monica branch 
Homer, Win slow 
Homolka, Frank 
Honolulu Academy of Art 
Horlocker, Leta 
House Beautiful (periodical) 
Hulburd, David, Jr. 
Huntington, Henry 
Huntington Library and Art Gallery 









502, 503 


37, 38, 
105, 359 


429, 439, 


37, 38 



10, 11, 264 



406, 434, 





12, 13, 17, 22, 

32-33, 36, 58 




367, 380, 382-405, 

409-417, 418, 460 









58, 61, 










305, 308 

Interpace Company 


Irish, Mrs. Leiland Atherton 





Jam Saheb of Nawanger, The 
Jaqua, Ernst 

Jepson, Herbert 

Johnson, Ebert 

Johnson, Frances 

Joseph and His Brethren (film) 

Joubert de la Ferte, Philip B. 

Joyce, Edmund P. 


94, 111-112, 113, 

114, 117, 118 

35, 90, 321, 347 


2, 16 




440, 454 

429, 439- 

Katz, Leo 

Keaton, Buster 
Kent, Rockwell 
Krushchev, Nikita 
Knudsen, Vern O. 
Kosa, Emil 
Kroll, Leon 
Kuntz, Roger 










Labaudt, Lucien 

Ladd, Thornton, and Associates 

Laguna Beach Art Association 

Lang , Mr . 

Lang, Florence Rand 
Lasansky, Mauricio 
Laurie, Lee 

The Sower 
Lebrun, Rico 

Genesis (mural) 
Leger, Fernand 
Leviathan (ship) 
Life (periodical) 

Linlithgow, Lord Victor A.J.H. 
Long, Wayne 
Longwell, Dan 
Los Angeles Art Academy 
Los Angeles Athletic Club 
Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce 
Los Angeles City Hall 
Los Angeles County Board of 






152, 330 



90, 164, 170 




188, 215, 234, 

238, 240, 246, 


217-218, 219 



17, 18 








337-339, 501- 


Los Angeles County Fair 

"5,000 Years of Art in Clay" 
"One World of Art" 
"Painting in the U.S." 
"Western Living" 

Los Angeles County Museum of Art 


Preston Harrison collection 
Los Angeles County Seal 
Los Angeles Examiner (newspaper) 
Los Angeles Times (newspaper) 

Louvre museum 
Luce, Henry 
Luckenbach Lines 
Lukes, George 
Lundeberg, Helen 

9-10, 32, 264-276, 
278-281, 287, 293- 

296, 302-309, 311 

270-276, 278 


279-281, 287, 293, 

305, 308 

23-24, 267, 294- 

297, 300, 339, 

267, 294-297 




86, 275-278, 333, 

368, 503 

43, 271 






McClellan, Douglas 

MacDonald-Wright, Stanton 

McFee, Henry Lee 

McKinney, Roland 

McNaughton, Elizabeth Baskerville 

McPherson, Aimee Semple 

Ma loo f, Sam 

Mann, Thomas 

Joseph and His Brethren 
Manship, Paul 

March Air Force Base, Riverside 
Martin, Fletcher 
Martinez, Alfred Ramos 

see Scottish Rite Masonic Temples 
Matisse, Henri 

Matters, Nilgiil 
Matters, Robert 

Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota 
Mestrovic, Ivan 
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios 
Metropolitan Museum of Art, 
New York 

"Artists for Victory" 

"Before Cortez" 

128-129, 145 


124, 141, 145 







131, 140, 405 




24, 29, 48, 135, 

144, 402 



422, 423 



58, 271, 278, 295, 

312-314, 550 




Meyer, Ellsworth 


Milburn, Oliver 

Milles, Carl 

Millier, Arthur 

Miro, Joan 

Modern Institute of Art, 

Beverly Hills 
Modra, Theodore B. 

Montclair Museum, New Jersey 
Moore, Eudorah 
Moroshkina, Lydia 
Moscow News (newspaper) 
Moselly, Corliss C. 
Mosman, Warren T. 
Motherwell, Robert 
Mountbatten, Lord Louis 
Mugnani, Joe 

Murphy, Father 

Murphy, Francis 

Music Center of Los Angeles County 
Ahmanson Theatre 

485, 489, 490 

19, 43, 72 






9-11, 13, 17, 44, 

58, 264-266, 267, 




518-520, 528 


173-175, 178 



222-224, 244 




334, 419 



National Academy of Design, New York 
National American Insurance 

Building, Los Angeles 
National Endowment for the Arts 
National Gallery of Art, 

Washington, D.C. 
National Shrine, Washington D.C. 
Newhouse, Bert 

Newhouse Gallery, Los Angeles 
Newhouse Gallery, New York 
New Orleans Drama Society 

and Theater 
Nicholson, Grace 
North Carolina Museum of Art, 

Notre Dame University 

313, 419-420 


454-459, 461 

30, 31-32 




297, 298, 309 

422-454, 462-463 

O'Day, Pat 
Orozco, Jose 

Prometheus (mural) 


159-163, 164, 169, 


159-163, 358 


Otis Art Institute 

Otis Art Institute Gallery 
Otis family 
Owen, Emma 
Owen, Hal lie 

see Perrin, 
Owen, Louis 
Owen, Milly 

see Sheets, 
Owens, Jesse 

Hal lie Owen 

Milly Owen 

17, 18, 58, 91, 93, 

134, 266, 294, 295, 

315-339, 349, 501, 




1, 3-4, 5-6, 15 

1, 3-6, 15 


Padelford, Morgan 

Palace of the Legion of Honor, 

San Francisco 
Pan Pacific Auditorium 
Paradise, Phil 
Pasadena Art Museum 

"California Design" series 
Pasadena City College 
Patterson, Patty 
Payne, Edgar 
Pennsylvania Academy 
Pereira, William 
Perrin, Chauncey C. 
Perrin, Clarence 
Perrin, Hallie Owen 
Petterson, Richard 
Philadelphia Museum of Art 
Picasso, Pablo 
Pijuan y Soteras, Jose 
Pomona College 

see also Scripps College 

Pomona High School 
Poor, Henry Varnum 
Powell and Powell 
Price, Vincent 
Prix de Rome 

Puthoff, Hanson 
Putnam, George 

94, 95, 97 


431, 477 


297-299, 300, 


309, 532-533 








6-7, 16, 20 

6, 16 

124, 268, 307 


72, 135, 144, 



8, 16-17, 38, 


100, 109, 123 

, 133 

134, 155-164, 


358, 473 


36 7 



19, 129, 130- 





Radio City Music Hall, New York 



Ravenna Mosaic Company, St. Louis 
Reader' s Digest (periodical) 
Reinhardt, Ad 
Rembrandt van Rijn 
Republican party 
Rivera, Diego 

Rockefeller, Nelson 
Roosevelt, Franklin Delano 
Ruddock, Albert 




45, 540 


26, 164-166, 






San Diego Fine Arts Gallery 
San Francisco Art Institute 
Santa Anita Race Track 
Santa Barbara Museum of Art 
Schneer, Jacques 
Schroder, Edwin R. 

Scott, Mr. 

Scott, David 

Scott, Virginia 

Scott, Virginia Steele, 

Scott, Virginia Steele, 

Scottish Rite Masonic Temple, 

Los Angeles 
Scottish Rite Masonic Temple 

(Grand Lodge), San Francisco 
Scripps College, Pomona 


Lang Art Gallery 

Lang Hall 
Scripps College Fine Arts Foundation 
Sears, Roebuck and Company 
Seattle Art Museum 
Sennett, Mac 
Serisawa, Sueo 
Service, Hal 
Sevareid, Eric 

Seward, Mrs. 

Shahn, Ben 

Shakespeare, William 
Sharp, Richard 








128, 145 

297-298, 531-538 

168, 531-538, 557 


428, 485-498 


38, 50, 57, 88-89, 
94-101, 107, 108- 
150, 153, 158, 161, 

170, 173, 



299, 308, 



323, 326, 



354, 362, 



461, 470, 



501, 559 















155, 170, 




Sheets, Caroline 

Sheets, David 

Sheets, John A. 

Sheets, John G. 

Sheets, Mrs. John G. (stepmother) 

Sheets, Lewis 

Sheets, Mary Baskerville 

(Mrs. Millard) 

Sheets, Millard Owen, Jr. 
Sheets, Milly Owen (Mrs. John G.) 
Sheets, Tony 
Shriners Hospital for 

Crippled Children 
Siqueiros, David 
Smith, Whitney 
Soldner, Paul 
Solomon, King of Israel 
Southern Methodist University 
Southern University, Baton Rouge 
South Pasadena Junior High School 
Sovietskaya Hotel, Moscow 
Speicher, Eugene 
Spencer, Niles 
Stalin, Joseph 
Stanford University 
Steele, Archibald 
Stendahl, Al 

Stendahl, Earl, and Gallery 
Stendahl, Enid 
Stewart, Albert 

Stewart, Marian 
Stickney Art Institute 
Stilwell, Joseph W. 
Stone, Edward Dure 11 
Stone, Irving 

Lust for Life 

Stover, Clarence 
Stuart, Gilbert 
Studio (periodical) 
Svenson, John 




3, 5 










1, 3 































180, 555 

-6, 7 

6, 51, 54, 89, 
99, 106, 114, 
180, 240, 253, 
261, 507, 510- 
532, 542, 554- 

, 6, 7 


168, 353 





6, 27, 28 

131, 140-142, 
492, 493 

175, 176, 179 

Tamayo, Rufino 
Taylor, Florence Ingal 
(Mrs. George A. ) 

164, 169 


Taylor, Francis 

Texas A & M University 

Texas Tech University, The Museum of 

Thorpe, James 

Thunderbird I (flying school) 

Thunderbird II (flying school) 

Tile and Marble Helpers and 

Shopmen Union 
Time - Life 

see also Life 
Tulane University 
Turner, J.M.W. 
Tuskegee Institute 









260, 261-264 





United Press International 
U.S. Air Force 

U.S. Army 

Air Force 

Corps of Engineers 
U.S. Department of Defense 
U.S. Department of State 

American Specialist Program 
U.S. Department of the Treasury 
U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation 
U.S. Public Works Administration 
Universal Studios 
University of Arizona 
University of California, Berkeley 

School of Architecture 
University of California, Los Angeles 

Art Library 
University of California, Santa Cruz 
University of Hawaii 
University of Illinois 
University of Iowa 
University of Mexico, Mexico City 
University of Minnesota 
University of Nebraska 
University of New Mexico 
University of Oklahoma 
University of Southern California 

School of Architecture 


























54, ; 














, 154 






, 336 






Valentiner, William 
Van Sant, Tom 




Veale, Bill 31, 39-40, 45, 50 

Vermeer, Jan 44-45 

Vista del Arroyo Hotel, Pasadena 113 

Voulkos, Peter 321, 330-331 

Vysekal, Edouard 58, 363 


Wallace, John 399 

Warren, Earl 273-275 

Washington, George 493 

Watkins, Franklin 312 

Watrons, Frank 55 

Watson, Helen 332 

Waugh, William 25 

Wavell, Archibald Percival 219-222 

Wavell, Mrs. Archibald 220-222 

Webster, Ida 13 

White, Theodore 244 

Will, Arthur 337, 338 

Wilson, William 86 

Witte Memorial Museum, 31 

San Antonio, Texas 

Wood, Beatrice 551 

Wood, Grant 152-153 

Wurl, Edward 245-253, 255 

Wiarl, Mrs. Edward 2 55 

Xavier University, New Orleans 154-155 


Yens, Carl 59 

Young Men's Christian Association 15-16, 352 

Zajac, Jack 129-132, 134 

Zerubabel 491, 493 

Zornes, Milfred 96 





Arizona Mission 544 

Cloth Dyers , Katmandu , Nepal , The 564-565 

Detroit Public Library mural 419-422 

Falcolners (tapestry) 570 

Familia Eguus in Elysian Field 560-562 

Garrison Theatre, Claremont, 170-171, 469-476 
building and mosaics 

Golden Gate Exposition murals 356 

Gulls Migrating 569-570 

Gypsy series 36-38 

Hilton Hotel, Honolulu, rainbow 476-481 

Hollywood Savings and Loan mural 352-353 

Home Savings and Loan buildings 
see entry in main index 

House on the Hill , The 559 

Istanbul , Turkey , 567-568 

Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce mural 356-357 

Los Angeles City Hall East mural 481-485 
Mayo Clinic mural 

National Shrine, Washington, D.C. 454-459, 461 

Notre Dame University Library mosaic 422-454, 462-463 

Old Temple , Katmandu , Nepal 563, 565 

River Bottom -"-"^ 


South Pasadena Junior High School 353-356 

Spanish 563 

Scottish Rite Masonic Temple, Los 428, 485-498 
Angeles, building and mosaic 

Scottish Rite Masonic Temple (Grand 496-497 
Lodge), San Francisco, building 
and interior 


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